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Essays on Reality and 

the Imagination 

These are Borzoi Books 
■published by Alfred A Knopf 

The poetry of WALLACE STEVENS 

Harmonium (1923, 193 1, 1947) 

Ideas of Order (1936) 

The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937) 

Parts 0/ a World (194a, 1951) 

Transport to Summer ( 1 947 ) 

The Auroras of Autumn (1950) 


The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937) includes OwTs 
Clover; Transport to Summer (1947) includes Es- 
thetique du Mai and Notes toward a Supreme Fiction. 
The Man with the Blue Guitar and Ideas of Order are 
scheduled for republication in 1952 in a single volume 
to carry the title The Man with the Blue Guitar 





Essays on Reality and the Imagination 


New York Alfred A Knopf 1951 

L C catalog card number 51-12072 



Copyright 1942, 1944, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951 by Waliace 
Stevens AH rights reserved No part of this book may be repro- 
duced m any forpi without permission in writing from the pub- 
lisher, except by'ia reviewer who may quote brief passages in a 
review to be pnttted in a magazine or newspaper Manufactured 
in the United States of America Published simultaneously m 
Canada by McClelland & Stewart Limited 


... 7 am the necessary angel of earth, 
Since, in my sight, you see the earth again. 




One function of the poet at any time is to discover 
by his own thought and feeling what seems to him to be 
poetry at that time Ordinarily he will disclose what he 
finds in his own poetry by way of the poetry itself He 
exercises this function most often without being con- 
scious of it, so that the disclosures m his poetry, while 
they define what seems to him to be poetry, are dis- 
closures of poetry, not disclosures of definitions of poetry 
The papers that have been collected here are intended to 
disclose definitions of poetry In short, they are intended 
to be contributions to the theory of poetry and it is this 
and this alone that binds them together 

Obviously, they are not the carefully organized notes 
of systematic study Except for the paper on one of Miss 
Moore's poems, they were written to be spoken and this 
affects their character. While all of them were published, 
after they had served the purposes for which they were 
written, I had no thought of making a book out of them 
Several years ago, when this was suggested, I felt that 
their occasional and more or less informal character made 
it desirable at least to postpone coming to a decision The 
theory of poetry, as a subject of study, was something 
with respect to which I had nothing but the most ardent 


ambitions. It seemed to me to be one of the great subjects 
of study. I do not mean one more Ars Poetica having to 
do, say, with the techniques of poetry and perhaps with 
its history I mean poetry itself, the naked poem, the im- 
agination manifesting itself in its domination of words. 
The few pages that follow are, now, alas' the only reali- 
zation possible to me of those excited ambitions. 

But to their extent they are a realization; and it is be- 
cause that is true, that is to say, because they seem to 
me to commumcate to the reader the portent of the sub- 
ject, if nothing more, that they are presented here. Only 
recently I spoke of certain poetic acts as subtilizing ex- 
perience and varying appearance: "The real is constantly 
being engulfed in the unreal. . . . [Poetry] is an illumi- 
nation of a surface, the movement of a self in the rock." 
A force capable of bringing about fluctuations in reality 
in words free from mysticism is a force independent of 
one's desire to elevate it. It needs no elevation. It has 
only to be presented, as best one is able to present it. 
These are not pages of criticism nor of philosophy. Nor 
are they merely literary pages. They are pages that have 
to do with one of the enlargements of life. They are with- 
out pretence beyond my desire to add my own definition 
to poetry's many existing definitions. 




The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words was read at 
Princeton, as one of a group of essays by several -persons 
on The Language of Poetry, made possible by the interest 
and generosity of Mr. and Mrs Henry Church, and was 
published by the Princeton University Press in 1942, 
The Language of Poetry was edited by Allen Tate The 
Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet was read at the En- 
tretiens de Pontigny, a conference held at Mount Holyoke 
College in 1943. The essay was published in Sewanee 
Review the following year. Three Academic Pieces was 
read at Harvard on the basis of the Morris Gray Fund 
Later, in 1 947, it was published by Partisan Review and 
also by Cummington Press About One of Marianne 
Moore's Poems was published in Quarterly Review of 
Literature m 1948 m a number in honor of Miss Moore. 
Effects of Analogy was read as a Bergen lecture at Yale 
and was published a little later, in 1 948, in the Yale Re- 
view Imagination as Value was read at Columbia before 
the English Institute and was included in the volume of 
English Institute Essays 1948 published by the Colum- 
bia University Press m 1949 The Relations between 
Poetry and Painting was read in New York at the Mu- 
seum of Modern Art in 1951 and was thereafter pub- 


lished by the Museum as a -pamphlet. In The Relations 
between Poetry and Painting the quotation from Leo 
Steins Appreciation is printed with permission of Crown 
Publishers (copyright 1947 by Leo Stein) 

The author is happy to say thanks to all these and, in 
particular, to the magazines and presses for the assign- 
ments of copyrights which have made it possible to gather 
these essays together. 



I. The Nohh Rider and the Sound of Words i 

II The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet 37 

III. Three Academic Pieces 69 

IV About One of Marianne Moore^s Poems 9 1 

V. Effects of Analogy 105 

VI Imagination as Value 131 

VII The Relations between Poetry and Painting 157 


The Noble Rider 
and the Sound of Words 

[ 3 ] 


_n the Phaedrus, Plato speaks of the soul in a figure. 
He says. 

Let our figure be of a composite nature — a pair of 
■winged horses and a charioteer. Now the winged horses 
and the charioteer of the gods are all of them noble, and 
of noble breed, while ours are mixed, and we have a 
charioteer who drives them in a pair, and one of them is 
noble and of noble origin, and the other is ignoble and of 
ignoble origin; and, as might be expected, there is a great 
deal of trouble in managing them I will endeavor to ex- 
plain to you in what way the mortal differs from the im- 
mortal creature. The soul or animate being has the care 
of the inanimate, and traverses the whole heaven in di- 
vers forms appearing, — when perfect and fully winged 
she soars upward, and is the ruler of the universe, while 
the imperfect soul loses her feathers, and drooping in her 
flight at hst settles on the solid ground. 

We recognize at once, in this figure, Plato's pure po- 
etry, and at the same time we recognize what Coleridge 
called Plato's dear, gorgeous nonsense The truth is that 
we have scarcely read the passage before we have identi- 
fied ourselves with the charioteer, have, in fact, taken his 


place and, driving his winged horses, are traversing the 
whole heaven. Then suddenly we remember, it may be, 
that the soul no longer exists and we droop in our flight 
and at last settle on the solid ground. The figure becomes 
antiquated and rustic. 

What really happens in this brief experience? Why 
does this figure, potent for so long, become merely the 
emblem of a mythology, the rustic memorial of a belief in 
the soul and in a distinction between good and evil? The 
answer to these questions is, I think, a simple one. 

I said that suddenly we remember that the soul no 
longer exists and we droop in our flight. For that matter, 
neither charioteers nor chariots any longer exist. Con- 
sequently, the figure does not become unreal because we 
are troubled about the soul Besides, unreal things have 
a reality of their own, in poetry as elsewhere We do not 
hesitate, in poetry, to yield ourselves to the unreal, when 
it is possible to yield ourselves. The existence of the soul, 
of charioteers and chariots and of winged horses is im- 
material They did not exist for Plato, not even the chari- 
oteer and chariot, for certainly a charioteer driving his 
chariot across the whole heaven was for Plato precisely 
what he is for us. He was unreal for Plato as he is for us 
Plato, however, could yield himself, was free to yield 
himself, to this gorgeous nonsense We cannot yield our- 
selves. We are not free to yield ourselves. 

Just as the difficulty is not a difficulty about unreal 

The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words 5 

things, since the imagination accepts them, and since the 
poetry of the passage is, for us, wholly the poetry of the 
unreal, so it is not an emotional difficulty. Something else 
than the imagination is moved by the statement that the 
horses of the gods are all of them noble, and of noble 
breed or origin. The statement is a moving statement and 
is intended to be so. It is insistent and its insistence 
moves us. Its insistence is the insistence of a speaker, in 
this case Socrates, who, for the moment, feels delight, 
even if a casual delight, in the nobility and noble breed. 
Those images of nobility instantly become nobility itself 
and determine the emotional level at which the next page 
or two are to be read The figure does not lose its vitality 
because of any failure of feeling on Plato's part He does 
not commumcate nobility coldly. His horses are not mar- 
ble horses, the reference to their breed saves them from 
being that The fact that the horses are not marble horses 
helps, moreover, to save the charioteer from being, say, 
a creature of cloud. The result is that we recognize, even 
if we cannot realize, the feelings of the robust poet clearly 
and fluently noting the images in his mind and by means 
of his robustness, clearness and fluency communicating 
much more than the images themselves. Yet we do not 
quite yield. We cannot. We do not feel free. 

In trying to find out what it is that stands between 
Plato's figure and ourselves, we have to accept the idea 
that, however legendary it appears to be, it has had its 
vicissitudes. The history of a figure of speech or the his- 
tory of an idea, such as the idea of nobility, cannot be 


very different from the history of anything else It is the 
episodes that are of interest, and here the episode is that 
of our diffidence. By us and ourselves, I mean you and 
me; and yet not you and me as individuals but as repre- 
sentatives of a state of mmd Adams in his work on Vico 
makes the remark that the true history of the human race 
is a history of its progressive mental states It is a remark 
of interest in this relation. We may assume that in the 
history of Plato's figure there have been incessant changes 
of response, that these changes have been psychological 
changes, and that our own diffidence is simply one more 
state of mind due to such a change. 

The specific question is partly as to the nature of the 
change and partly as to the cause of it In nature, the 
change is as follows The imagination loses vitality as it 
ceases to adhere to what is real When it adheres to the 
unreal and intensifies what is unreal, while its first effect 
may be extraordinary, that effect is the maximum effect 
that it will ever have In Plato's figure, his imagination 
does not adhere to what is real. On the contrary, having 
created something unreal, it adheres to it and intensifies 
its unreality. Its first effect, its effect at first reading, is 
its maximum effect, when the imagination, being moved, 
puts us in the place of the charioteer, before the reason 
checks us The case is, then, that we concede that the 
figure is all imagination. At the same time, we say that 
it has not the slightest meaning for us, except for its no- 
bility. As to that, while we are moved by it, we are 
moved as observers. We recognize it perfectly We do 

The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words 7 

not realize it. We -understand the feeling of it, the robust 
feeling, clearly and fluently communicated. Yet we un- 
derstand it rather than participate in it. 

As to the cause of the change, it is the loss of the 
figure's vitality. The reason why this particular figure has 
lost its vitality is that, in it, the imagination adheres to 
what is unreal. What happened, as we were traversing 
the whole heaven, is that the imagination lost its power 
to sustain us. It has the strength of reality or none at all 

What has just been said demonstrates that there are 
degrees of the imagination, as, for example, degrees of 
vitality and, therefore, of intensity. It is an implication 
that there are degrees of reality. The discourse about the 
two elements seems endless. For my own part, I intend 
merely to follow, in a very hasty way, the fortunes of the 
idea of nobility as a characteristic of the imagination, and 
even as its symbol or alter ego, through several of the 
episodes in its history, in order to determine, if possible, 
what its fate has been and what has determined its fate. 
This can be done only on the basis of the relation be- 
tween the imagination and reality. What has been said in 
respect to the figure of the charioteer illustrates this. 

I should like now to go on to other illustrations of the 
relation between the imagination and reality and particu- 
larly to illustrations that constitute episodes in the history 
of the idea of nobility. It would be agreeable to pass di- 
rectly from the charioteer and his winged horses to Don 


Quixote. It would be like a return from what Plato calls 
"the back of heaven" to one's own spot. Nevertheless, 
there is Verrocchio (as one among others) with his 
statue of Bartolommeo Colleoni, in Venice, standing in 
the way. I have not selected him as a Neo-Platonist to re- 
late us back from a modern time to Plato's time, although 
he does in fact so relate us, Just as through Leonardo, his 
pupil, he strengthens the relationship. I have selected 
him because there, on the edge of the world in which we 
live today, he established a form of such nobility that it 
has never ceased to magnify us in our own eyes. It is like 
the form of an invincible man, who has come, slowly and 
boldly, through every warlike opposition of the past and 
who moves in our midst without dropping the bridle of 
the powerful horse from his hand, without taking off his 
helmet and without relaxing the attitude of a warrior of 
noble origin. What man on whose side the horseman 
fought could ever be anything but fearless, anything but 
indomitable? One feels the passion of rhetoric begin to 
stir and even to grow furious; and one thinks that, after 
all, the noble style, in whatever it creates, merely per- 
petuates the noble style. In this statue, the apposition be- 
tween the imagination and reality is too favorable to the 
imagination. Our difficulty is not primarily with any de- 
tail. It is primarily with the whole. The point is not so 
much to analyze the difficulty as to determine whether 
we share it, to find out whether it exists, whether we re- 
gard this specimen of the genius of Verrocchio and of the 
Renaissance as a bit of uncommon panache, no longer 

The Nohle Rider and the Sound of Words 9 

quite the appropriate thing outdoors, or whether we re- 
gard it, in the language of Dr. Richards, as something in- 
exhaustible to meditation or, to speak for myself, as a 
thing of a nobility responsive to the most minute demand. 
It seems, nowadays, what it may very well not have 
seemed a few years ago, a little overpowering, a little 

Undoubtedly, Don Quixote could be Bartolommeo 
Colleoni in Spam. The tradition of Italy is the tradition 
of the imagination. The tradition of Spain is the tradition 
of reality. There is no apparent reason why the reverse 
should not be true. If this is a just observation, it indi- 
cates that the relation between the imagination and real- 
ity is a question, more or less, of precise equilibrium. 
Thus it is not a question of the difference between gro- 
tesque extremes. My purpose is not to contrast Colleoni 
with Don Quixote. It is to say that one passed into the 
other, that one became and was the other. The difference 
between them is that Verrocchio believed in one kind of 
nobility and Cervantes, if he believed in any, believed in 
another kind. With Verrocchio it was an affair of the 
noble style, whatever his prepossession respecting the no- 
bility of man as a real animal may have been. With 
Cervantes, nobility was not a thing of the imagination. 
It was a part of reality, it was something that exists in 
life, something so true to us that it is in danger of ceasing 
to exist, if we isolate it, something in the mind of a pre- 
carious tenure. These may be words. Certainly, however, 
Cervantes sought to set right the balance between the 


imagination and reality As we come closer to our own 
times in Don Quixote and as we are drawn together by 
the intelligence common to the two periods, we may de- 
rive so much satisfaction from the restoration of reality 
as to become wholly prejudiced against the imagination 
This is to reach a conclusion prematurely, let alone that 
it may be to reach a conclusion in respect to something as 
to which no conclusion is possible or desirable. 

There is in Washington, in Lafayette Square, which is 
the square on which the White House faces, a statue of 
Andrew Jackson, riding a horse with one of the most 
beautiful tails in the world General Jackson is raising his 
hat in a gay gesture, saluting the ladies of his generation. 
One looks at this work of Clark Mills and thinks of the 
remark of Bertrand Russell that to acquire immunity to 
eloquence is of the utmost importance to the citizens of 
a democracy. We are bound to think that Colleoni, as a 
mercenary, was a much less formidable man than Gen- 
eral Jackson, that he meant less to fewer people and that, 
if Verrocchio could have applied his prodigious poetry to 
Jackson, the whole American outlook today might be 
imperial. This work is a work of fancy. Dr. Richards 
cites Coleridge's theory of fancy as opposed to imagina- 
tion. Fancy is an activity of the mind which puts things 
together of choice, not the will, as a principle of the 
mind's being, striving to realize itself in knowing itself. 
Fancy, then, is an exercise of selection from among ob- 
jects already supplied by association, a selection made for 
purposes which are not then and therein being shaped 

The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words 


but have been already fixed We are concerned then with 
an object occupying a position as remarkable as any that 
can be found in the United States in which there is not 
the slightest trace of the imagination. Treating this work 
as typical, it is obvious that the American will as a prin- 
ciple of the mind's being is easily satisfied in its efforts 
to realize itself in knowing itself The statue may be dis- 
missed, not without speaking of it again as a thing that 
at least makes us conscious of ourselves as we were, if 
not as we are. To that extent, it helps us to know our- 
selves. It helps us to know ourselves as we were and that 
helps us to know ourselves as we are. The statue is 
neither of the imagination nor of reality. That it is a work 
of fancy precludes it from being a work of the imagina- 
tion. A glance at it shows it to be unreal. The bearing of 
this is that there can be works, and this includes poems, 
in which neither the imagination nor reality is present. 

The other day I was reading a note about an American 
artist who was said to have "turned his back on the aes- 
thetic whims and theories of the day, and established 
headquarters in lower Manhattan. 11 Accompanying this 
note was a reproduction of a painting called Wooden 
Horses. It is a painting of a merry-go-round, possibly of 
several of them One of the horses seems to be prancing 
The others are going lickety-split, each one struggling to 
get the bit in his teeth The horse in the center of the 
picture, painted yellow, has two riders, one a man, 
dressed in a carnival costume, who is seated in the saddle, 
the other a blonde, who is seated well up the horse's 


neck The man has his arms under the girl's arms. He 
holds himself stiffly in order to keep his cigar out of the 
girl's hair. Her feet are in a second and shorter set of 
stirrups. She has the legs of a hammer-thrower It is clear 
that the couple are accustomed to wooden horses and like 
them. A little behind them is a younger girl riding alone. 
She has a strong body and streaming hair. She wears a 
short-sleeved, red waist, a white skirt and an emphatic 
bracelet of pink coral She has her eyes on the man's 
arms. Still farther behind, there is another girl. One does 
not see much more of her than her head Her lips are 
painted bright red. It seems that it would be better if 
someone were to hold her on her horse We, here, are not 
interested in any aspect of this picture except that it is a 
picture of ribald and hilarious reality It is a picture 
wholly favorable to what is real It is not without im- 
agination and it is far from being without aesthetic 


These illustrations of the relation between the imagina- 
tion and reality are an outline on the basis of which to in- 
dicate a tendency Their usefulness is this that they help 
to make clear, what no one may ever have doubted, that 
just as in this or that work the degrees of the imagination 
and of reality may vary, so this variation may exist as be- 
tween the works of one age and the works of another 
What I have said up to this point amounts to this that 
the idea of nobility exists in art today only in degenerate 

The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words 13 

forms or in a much diminished state, if, in fact, it exists at 
all or otherwise than on sufferance, that this is due to fail- 
ure in the relation between the imagination and reality. 
I should now like to add that this failure is due, in turn, 
to the pressure of reality. 

A variation between the sound of words in one age 
and the sound of words in another age is an instance of 
the pressure of reality Take the statement by Bateson 
that a language, considered semantically, evolves through 
a series of conflicts between the denotative and the con- 
notative forces in words, between an asceticism tending 
to kill language by stripping words of all association and 
a hedonism tending to kill language by dissipating their 
sense in a multiplicity of associations. These conflicts are 
nothing more than changes in the relation between the 
imagination and reality. Bateson describes the seven- 
teenth century in England as predominately a connota- 
tive period. The use of words m connotative senses was 
denounced by Locke and Hobbes, who desired a mathe- 
matical plainness, in short, perspicuous words There 
followed in the eighteenth century an era of poetic dic- 
tion. This was not the language of the age but a language 
of poetry peculiar to itself In time, "Wordsworth came to 
write the preface to the second edition of the Lyrical Bal- 
lads ( 1 800) , in which he said that the first volume had 
been published, "as an experiment, which, I hoped, might 
be of some use to ascertain how far, by fitting to metrical 
arrangement a selection of the real language of man in a 
state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that 


quantity of pleasure may be imparted, which a Poet may 
rationally endeavour to impart " 

As the nineteenth century progressed, language once 
more became connotative While there have been in- 
termediate reactions, this tendency toward the connota- 
tive is the tendency today. The interest in semantics is 
evidence of this. In the case of some of our prose writers, 
as, for example, Joyce, the language, in quite different 
ways, is wholly connotative When we say that Locke 
and Hobbes denounced the connotative use of words as 
an abuse, and when we speak of reactions and reforms, 
we are speaking, on the one hand, of a failure of the im- 
agination to adhere to reality, and, on the other, of a use 
of language favorable to reality The statement that the 
tendency toward the connotative is the tendency today is 
disputable. The general movement in the arts, that is to 
say, in painting and in music, has been the other way It 
is hard to say that the tendency is toward the connotative 
in the use of words without also saying that the tendency 
is toward the imagination in other directions. The inter- 
est in the subconscious and in surrealism shows the tend- 
ency toward the imaginative Boileaus remark that Des- 
cartes had cut poetry's throat is a remark that could have 
been made respecting a great many people during the 
last hundred years, and of no one more aptly than of 
Freud, who, as it happens, was familiar with it and re- 
peats it in his Future of an Illusion The object of that 
essay was to suggest a surrender to reality His premise 
was that it is the unmistakable character of the present 

The Nohle Rider and the Sound of Words 15 

situation not that the promises of religion have become 
smaller but that they appear less credible to people. He 
notes the decline of religious belief and disagrees with the 
argument that man cannot in general do without the con- 
solation of what he calls the religious illusion and that 
without it he would not endure the cruelty of reality. His 
conclusion is that man must venture at last into the hos- 
tile world and that this maybe called education to reality. 
There is much more in that essay inimical to poetry and 
not least the observation in one of the final pages that 
"The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not 
rest until it has gained a hearing.'" This, I fear, is in- 
tended to be the voice of the realist. 

A tendency in language toward the connotative might 
very well parallel a tendency in other arts toward the de- 
notative. We have just seen that that is in fact the situa- 
tion I suppose that the present always appears to be an 
illogical complication The language of Joyce goes along 
with the dilapidations of Braque and Picasso and the mu- 
sic of the Austrians. To the extent that this painting and 
this music are the work of men who regard it as part of 
the science of painting and the science of music it is the 
work of realists. Actually its effect is that of the imagina- 
tion, just as the effect of abstract painting is so often that 
of the imagination, although that may be different Bu- 
soni said, in a letter to his wife, "I have made the painful 
discovery that nobody loves and feels music. 11 Very 
likely, the reason there is a tendency in language toward 
the connotative today is that there are many who love it 


and feel it. It may be that Braque and Picasso love and 
feel painting and that Schonberg loves and feels music, 
although it seems that what they love and feel is some- 
thing else. 

A tendency toward the connotative, whether in lan- 
guage or elsewhere, cannot continue against the pressure 
of reality. If it is the pressure of reality that controls po- 
etry, then the immediacy of various theories of poetry is 
not what it was. For instance, when Rostrevor Hamilton 
says, "The object of contemplation is the highly complex 
and unified content of consciousness, which comes into 
being through the developing subjective attitude of the 
percipient," he has in mind no such "content of con- 
sciousness" as every newspaper reader experiences today. 

By way of further illustration, let me quote from 
Croce^ Oxford lecture of 1933. He said "If . . . poetry 
'-'is intuition and expression, the fusion of sound and im- 
agery, what is the material which takes on the form of 
sound and imagery? It is the whole man. the man who 
thinks and wills, and loves, and hates, who is strong and 
weak, sublime and pathetic, good and wicked, man in the ' 
exultation and agony of living, and together with the 
man, integral with him, it is all nature in its perpetual 
labour of evolution. . . . Poetry ... is the triumph 
of contemplation. . . . Poetic genius chooses a strait 
path in which passion is calmed and calm is passionate " ' 

Croce cannot have been thinking of a world in which 
all normal life is at least in suspense, or, if you like, under 
blockage. He was thinking of normal human experience. 

The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words 17 

Quite apart from the abnormal aspect of everyday life 
today, there is the normal aspect of it. The spirit of nega- 
tion has been so active, so confident and so intolerant that 
the commonplaces about the romantic provoke us to won- 
der if our salvation, if the way out, is not the romantic 
All the great things have been denied and we live m an 
intricacy of new and local mythologies, political, eco- 
nomic, poetic, which are asserted with an ever-enlarging 
incoherence. This is accompanied by an absence of any 
authority except force, operative or imminent. What has 
been called the disparagement of reason is an instance of 
the absence of authority. We pick up the radio and find 
that comedians regard the public use of words of more 
than two syllables as funny We read of the opening of 
the National Gallery at Washington and we are con- 
vinced, in the end, that the pictures are counterfeit, that 
museums are impositions and that Mr. Mellon was a 
monster We turn to a recent translation of Kierkegaard 
and we find him saying: "A great deal has been said 
about poetry reconciling one with existence; rather it 
might be said that it arouses one against existence; for 
poetry is unjust to men ... it has use only for the elect, 
but that is a poor sort of reconciliation. I will take the 
case of sickness. Aesthetics replies proudly and quite 
consistently, 'That cannot be employed, poetry must not 
become a hospital 1 Aesthetics culminates ... by re- 
garding sickness in accordance with the principle enunci- 
ated by Friedrich Schlegel l Nur Gesundheit ist liebens- 
wurdig 1 (Health alone is lovable.)" 


The enormous influence of education in giving every- 
one a little learning, and in giving large groups consider- 
ably more something of history, something of philoso- 
phy, something of literature, the expansion of the middle 
class with its common preference for realistic satisfac- 
tions, the penetration of the masses of people by the ideas 
of liberal thinkers, even when that penetration is indirect, 
as by the reporting of the reasons why people oppose the 
ideas that they oppose, — these are normal aspects of ev- 
eryday life The way we live and the way we work alike 
cast us out on reality If fifty private houses were to be 
built in New York this year, it would be a phenomenon 
We no longer live in homes but in housing projects and 
this is so whether the project is literally a project or a club, 
a dormitory, a camp or an apartment in River House It is 
not only that there are more of us and that we are actually 
close together. We are close together in every way We 
he in bed and listen to a broadcast from Cairo, and so on. 
There is no distance We are intimate with people we 
have never seen and, unhappily, they are intimate with 
us Democntus plucked his eye out because he could not 
look at a woman without thinking of her as a woman 
If he had read a few of our novels, he would have torn 
himself to pieces Dr Richards has noted "the wide- 
spread increase in the aptitude of the average mind for 
self-dissolving introspection, the generally heightened 
awareness of the goings-on of our own minds, merely as 
gomgs-on " This is nothing to the generally heightened 
awareness of the gomgs-on of other people's minds, 

The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words 19 

merely as goings-on The way we work is a good deal 
more difficult for the imagination than the highly civilized 
revolution that is occurring in respect to work indicates. 
It is, m the main, a revolution for more pay. We have 
been assured, by every visitor, that the American busi- 
nessman is absorbed in his business and there is nothing 
to be gained by disputing it. As for the workers, it is 
enough to say that the word has grown to be literary. 
They have become, at their work, in the face of the ma- 
chines, something approximating an abstraction, an en- 
ergy. The time must be coming when, as they leave the 
factories, they will be passed through an air-chamber or 
a bar to revive them for riot and reading. I am sorry to 
have to add that to one that thinks, as Dr Richards 
thinks, that poetry is the supreme use of language, some 
of the foreign univer sides in relation to our own appear 
to be, so far as the things of the imagination are con- 
cerned, as Verroccmo is to the sculptor of the statue of 
General Jackson 

These, nevertheless, are not the things that I had in 
mind when I spoke of the pressure of reality. These con- 
stitute the drift of incidents, to which we accustom our- 
selves as to the weather. Materialism is an old story and 
an indifferent one. Robert Wolseley said "True genius 
. . . will enter into the hardest and dryest thing, enrich 
the most barren Soyl, and inform the meanest and most 
uncomely matter ... the baser, the emptier, the ob- 
scurer, the fouler, and the less susceptible of Ornament 
the subject appears to be, the more is the Poet's Praise 


. . who, as Horace says of Homer, can fetch Light 
out of Smoak, Roses out of Dunghills, and give a kind 
of Life to the Inanimate ." (Preface to Rochester's 
Valentinian, 1685, English Association Essays and 
Studies 1939) By the pressure of reality, I mean the 
pressure of an external event or events on the conscious- 
ness to the exclusion of any power of contemplation The 
definition ought to be exact and, as it is, may be merely 
pretentious But when one is trying to think of a whole 
generation and of a world at war, and trying at the same 
time to see what is happening to the imagination, particu- 
larly if one believes that that is what matters most, the 
plainest statement of what is happening can easily appear 
to be an affectation 

For more than ten years now, there has been an 
extraordinary pressure of news — let us say, news incom- 
parably more pretentious than any description of it, news, 
at first, of the collapse of our system, or, call it, of life, 
then of news of a new world, but of a new world so un- 
certain that one did not know anything whatever of its 
nature, and does not know now, and could not tell 
whether it was to be all-English, all-German, all-Russian, 
all-Japanese, or all-American, and cannot tell now, and 
finally news of a war, which was a renewal of what, if it 
was not the greatest war, became such by this continua- 
tion. And for more than ten years, the consciousness of 
the world has concentrated on events which have made 
the ordinary movement of life seem to be the movement 
of people in the intervals of a storm The disclosures of 

The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words 21 

the impermanence of the past suggested, and suggest, an 
impermanence of the future Little of what we have be- 
lieved has been true Only the prophecies are true The 
present is an opportunity to repent. This is familiar 
enough The war is only a part of a war-like whole It is 
not possible to look backward and to see that the same 
thing was true m the past It is a question of pressure, 
and pressure is incalculable and eludes the historian The 
Napoleonic era is regarded as having had little or no effect 
on the poets and the novelists who lived m it But Cole- 
ridge and Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott and Jane 
Austen did not have to put up with Napoleon and Marx 
and Europe, Asia and Africa all at one time. It seems 
possible to say that they knew of the events of their day 
much as we know of the bombings m the interior of 
China and not at all as we know of the bombings of Lon- 
don, or, rather, as we should know of the bombings of 
Toronto or Montreal. Another part of the war-like whole 
to which we do not respond quite as we do to the news of 
war is the income tax. The blanks are specimens of 
mathematical prose They titillate the instinct of self- 
preservation in a class m which that instinct has been for- 
gotten Virginia Woolf thought that the income tax, if it 
continued, would benefit poets by enlarging their vo- 
cabularies and I dare say that she was right 

If it is not possible to assert that the Napoleonic era 
was the end of one era in the history of the imagination 
and the beginning of another, one comes closer to the 
truth by making that assertion in respect to the French 


Revolution. The defeat or triumph of Hitler are parts of 
a war-like whole but the fate of an individual is different 
from the fate of a society Rightly or wrongly, we feel 
that the fate of a society is involved in the orderly dis- 
orders of the present time We are confronting, therefore, 
a set of events, not only beyond our power to tran- 
quillize them in the mind, beyond our power to reduce 
them and metamorphose them, but events that stir the 
emotions to violence, that engage us m what is direct 
and immediate and real, and events that involve the con- 
cepts and sanctions that are the order of our hves and 
may involve our very lives, and these events are occur- 
ring persistently with increasing omen, in what may be 
called our presence. These are the things that I had in 
mind when I spoke of the pressure of reality, a pressure 
great enough and prolonged enough to bring about the 
end of one era in the history of the imagination and, if so, 
then great enough to bring about the beginning of an- 
other. It is one of the peculiarities of the imagination that 
it is always at the end of an era What happens is that it 
is always attaching itself to a new reality, and adhering 
to it It is not that there is a new imagination but that there 
is a new reality. The pressure of reality may, of course, 
be less than the general pressure that I have described 
It exists for individuals according to the circumstances 
of their lives or according to the characteristics of their 
minds. To sum it up, the pressure of reality is, I think, 
the determining factor m the artistic character of an era 
and, as well, the determining factor in the artistic char- 

The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words 2,3 

acter of an individual. The resistance to this pressure or 
its evasion in the case of individuals of extraordinary im- 
agination cancels the pressure so far as those individuals 
are concerned 

Suppose we try, now, to construct the figure of a poet, 
a possible poet. He cannot be a charioteer traversing va- 
cant space, however ethereal He must have lived all of 
the last two thousand years, and longer, and he must 
have instructed himself, as best he could, as he went 
along. He will have thought that Virgil, Dante, Shake- 
speare, Milton placed themselves in remote lands and in 
remote ages, that their men and women were the dead 
— and not the dead lying in the earth, but the dead still 
living in their remote lands and in their remote ages, and 
living in the earth or under it, or m the heavens — and he 
will wonder at those huge imaginations, in which -what 
is remote becomes near, and what is dead lives with an 
intensity beyond any experience of life He will consider 
that although he has himself witnessed, during the long 
period of his life, a general transition to reality, his own 
measure as a poet, in spite of all the passions of all the 
lovers of the truth, is the measure of his power to ab- 
stract himself, and to withdraw with him into his abstrac- 
tion the reality on which the lovers of truth insist He 
must be able to abstract himself and also to abstract real- 
ity, which he does by placing it in his imagination He 
knows perfectly that he cannot be too noble a rider, that 


he cannot rise up loftily in helmet and armor on a horse 
of imposing bronze He will think again of Milton and of 
what was said about him that "the necessity of writing 
for one's living blunts the appreciation of writing when 
it bears the mark of perfection Its quality disconcerts our 
hasty writers, they are ready to condemn it as preciosity 
and affectation And if to them the musical and creative 
powers of words convey little pleasure, how out of date 
and irrelevant they must find the . music of Milton 1 s 
verse " Don Quixote will make it imperative for him to 
make a choice, to come to a decision regarding the im- 
agination and reality, and he will find that it is not a 
choice of one over the other and not a decision that di- 
vides them, but something subtler, a recognition that 
here, too, as between these poles, the universal interde- 
pendence exists, and hence his choice and his decision 
must be that they are equal and inseparable To take a 
single instance When Horatio says, 

Now cracks a noble heart Good night, sweet -prince, 
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest I 

are not the imagination and reality equal and inseparable' 
Above all, he will not forget General Jackson or the pic- 
ture of the Wooden Horses 

I said of the picture that it was a work in which every- 
thing was favorable to reality I hope that the use of that 
bare word has been enough But without regard to its 
range of meaning in thought, it includes all its natural 
images, and its connotations are without limit. Bergson 

The Nohle Rider and the Sound of Words 25 

describes the visual perception of a motionless object as 
the most stable of internal states He says "The object 
may remain the same, I may look at it from the same 
side, at the same angle, in the same light, nevertheless, 
the vision I now have of it differs from that which I have 
just had, even if only because the one is an instant later 
than the other My memory is there, which conveys 
something of the past into the present -l ' 1 

Dr Joad's comment on this is "Similarly with ex- 
ternal things Every body, every quality of a body re- 
solves itself into an enormous number of vibrations, 
movements, changes What is it that vibrates, moves, is 
changed' There is no answer Philosophy has long dis- 
missed the notion of substance and modern physics has 
endorsed the dismissal . How, then, does the world 
come to appear to us as a collection of solid, static objects 
extended in space' Because of the intellect, which pre- 
sents us with a false view of it " 

The poet has his own meaning for reality, and the 
painter has, and the musician has, and besides what it 
means to the intelligence and to the senses, it means 
something to everyone, so to speak Notwithstanding 
this, the word in its general sense, which is the sense in 
which I have used it, adapts itself instandy The subject- 
matter of poetry is not that "collection of solid, static ob- 
jects extended in space" but the life that is lived in the 
scene that it composes, and so reality is not that external 
scene but the life that is lived in it Reality is things as 
they are. The general sense of the word proliferates its 


special senses. It is a jungle in itself As in the case of a 
jungle, everything that makes it up is pretty much of one 
color First, then, there is the reality that is taken for 
granted, that is latent and, on the whole, ignored It is 
the comfortable American state of life of the eighties, the 
nineties and the first ten years of the present century. 
Next, there is the reality that has ceased to be indifferent, 
the years when the Victorians had been disposed of and 
intellectual minorities and social minorities began to take 
their place and to convert our state of life to something 
that might not be final. This much more vital reality 
made the life that had preceded it look like a volume of 
Ackermanns colored plates or one of Topfers books of 
sketches in Switzerland. I am trying to give the feel of 
it. It was the reality of twenty or thirty years ago I say 
that it was a vital reality The phrase gives a false impres- 
sion. It was vital in the sense of being tense, of being in- 
stinct with the fatal or with what might be the fatal The 
minorities began to convince us that the Victorians had 
left nothing behind The Russians followed the Victo- 
rians, and the Germans, in their way, followed the Rus- 
sians. The British Empire, directly or indirectly, was 
what was left and as to that one could not be sure 
whether it was a shield or a target Reality then became 
violent and so remains This much ought to be said to 
make it a little clearer that in speaking of the pressure of 
reality, I am thinking of life in a state of violence, not 
physically violent, as yet, for us in America, but phys- 
ically violent for millions of our friends and for still more 

The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words 2,7 

millions of our enemies and spiritually violent, it may be 
said, for everyone alive. 

A possible poet must be a poet capable of resisting 
or evading the pressure of the reality of this last degree, 
with the knowledge that the degree of today may become 
a deadlier degree tomorrow. There is, however, no point 
to dramatizing the future in advance of the fact. I con- 
fine myself to the outhne of a possible poet, with only the 
slightest sketch of his background. 


Here I am, well-advanced in my paper, with every- 
thing of interest that I started out to say remaining to be 
said I am interested in the nature of poetry and I have 
stated its nature, from one of the many points of view 
from which it is possible to state it. It is an interdepend- 
ence of the imagination and reality as equals. This is not 
a definition, since it is incomplete. But it states the nature 
of poetry. Then I am interested in the role of the poet 
and this is paramount. In this area of my subject I might 
be expected to speak of the social, that is to say sociologi- 
cal or political, obligation of the poet. He has none. That 
he must be contemporaneous is as old as Longinus and 
I dare say older. But that he is contemporaneous is almost 
inevitable How contemporaneous in the direct sense in 
which being contemporaneous is intended were the four 
great poets of whom I spoke a moment ago? I do not 
think that a poet owes any more as a social obligation 
than he owes as a moral obligation, and if there is any- 


thing concerning poetry about which people agree it is 
that the role of the poet is not to be found m morals I 
cannot say what that wide agreement amounts to because 
the agreement (m which I do not join) that the poet is 
under a social obligation is equally wide Reality is life 
and life is society and the imagination and reality, that 
is to say, the imagination and society are inseparable 
That is pre-eminently true in the case of the poetic drama. 
The poetic drama needs a terrible genius before it is any- 
thing more than a literary relic Besides the theater has 
forgotten that it could ever be terrible. It is not one of 
the instruments of fate, decidedly. Yes- the all-command- 
ing subject-matter of poetry is life, the never-ceasing 
source But it is not a social obligation One does not 
love and go back to ones ancient mother as a social obli- 
gation One goes back out of a suasion not to be denied. 
Unquestionably if a social movement moved one deeply 
enough, its moving poems would follow. No politician 
can command the imagination, directing it to do this or 
that. Stalin might grind his teeth the whole of a Russian 
winter and yet all the poets in the Soviets might remain 
silent the following spring. He might excite their imagi- 
nations by something he said or did. He would not com- 
mand them. He is singularly free from that "cult of 
pomp," which is the comic side of the European disaster, 
and that means as much as anything to us. The truth is 
that the social obligation so closely urged is a phase of 
the pressure of reality which a poet (in the absence of 
dramatic poets) is bound to resist or evade today Dante 

The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words 2,0 

in Purgatory and Paradise was still the voice of the Mid- 
dle Ages but not through fulfilling any social obligation. 
Since that is the role most frequently urged, if that role is 
eliminated, and if a possible poet is left facing life with- 
out any categorical exactions upon him, what then? 
What is his function' Certainly it is not to lead people 
out of the confusion in which they find themselves. Nor 
is it, I think, to comfort them while they follow their 
readers to and fro I think that his function is to make 
his imagination theirs and that he fulfills himself only as 
he sees his imagination become the light in the minds of 
others His role, in short, is to help people to live their 
lives Time and time again it has been said that he may not 
address himself to an elite I think he may There is not 
a poet whom we prize living today that does not address 
himself to an elite The poet will continue to do this : to 
address himself to an elite even in a classless society, un- 
less, perhaps, this exposes him to imprisonment or exile. 
In that event he is likely not to address himself to anyone 
at all. He may, like Shostakovich, content himself with 
pretence He will, nevertheless, still be addressing him- 
self to an elite, for all poets address themselves to some- 
one and it is of the essence of that instinct, and it seems to 
amount to an instinct, that it should be to an elite, not to 
a drab but to a woman with the hair of a pythoness, not 
to a chamber of commerce but to a gallery of one's own, 
if there are enough of one's own to fill a gallery. And that 
elite, if it responds, not out of complaisance, but because 
the poet has quickened it, because he has educed from it 


that for which it was searching in itself and in the life 
around it and which it had not yet quite found, will there- 
after do for the poet what he cannot do for himself, that is 
to say, receive his poetry 

I repeat that his role is to help people to live their 
lives. He has had immensely to do with giving life what- 
ever savor it possesses. He has had to do with whatever 
the imagination and the senses have made of the world 
He has, in fact, had to do with life except as the intellect 
has had to do with it and, as to that, no one is needed to 
tell us that poetry and philosophy are akin. I want to re- 
peat for two reasons a number of observations made by 
Charles Mauron. The first reason is that these observa- 
tions tell us what it is that a poet does to help people to 
live their lives and the second is that they prepare the 
way for a word concerning escapism. They are: that the 
artist transforms us into epicures; that he has to discover 
the possible work of art in the real world, then to extract 
it, when he does not himself compose it entirely, that he 
is un amoureux perpetuel of the world that he contem- 
plates and thereby enriches, that art sets out to express 
the human soul; and finally that everything like a firm 
grasp of reality is eliminated from the aesthetic field. 
With these aphorisms in mind, how is it possible to con- 
demn escapism? The poetic process is psychologically an 
escapist process. The chatter about escapism is, to my 
way of thinking, merely common cant My own remarks 
about resisting or evading the pressure of reality mean 
escapism, if analyzed Escapism has a pejorative sense, 

The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words 31 

which it cannot be supposed that I include in the sense 
m which I use the word. The pejorative sense applies 
where the poet is not attached to reality, where the im- 
agination does not adhere to reality, which, for my part, 
I regard as fundamental. If we go back to the collection 
of solid, static objects extended in space, which Dr. Joad 
posited, and if we say that the space is blank space, no- 
where, without color, and that the objects, though solid, 
have no shadows and, though static, exert a mournful 
power, and, without elaborating this complete poverty, 
if suddenly we hear a different and familiar description 
of the place: 

This City now doth, like a garment, wear 
The beauty of the morning, silent bare, 
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie 
Open unto the fields, and to the shy, 
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air; 

if we have this experience, we know how poets help peo- 
ple to live their lives. This illustration must serve for all 
the rest There is, in fact, a world of poetry indistinguish- 
able from the world in which we live, or, I ought to say, 
no doubt, from the world in which we shall come to live, 
since what makes the poet the potent figure that he is, or 
was, or ought to be, is that he creates the world to which 
we turn incessantly and without knowing it and that he 
gives to life the supreme fictions without which we are 
unable to conceive of it. 

And what about the sound of words' What about no- 


bility, of which the fortunes were to be a kind of test of 
the value of the poet? I do not know of anything that will 
appear to have suffered more from the passage of time 
than the music of poetry and that has suffered less. The 
deepening need for words to express our thoughts and 
feelings which, we are sure, are all the truth that we 
shall ever experience, having no illusions, makes us listen 
to words when we hear them, loving them and feeling 
them, makes us search the sound of them, for a finality, 
a perfection, an unalterable vibration, which it is only 
within the power of the acutest poet to give them Those 
of us who may have been thinking of the path of poetry, 
those who understand that words are thoughts and not 
only our own thoughts but the thoughts of men and 
women ignorant of what it is that they are thinking, must 
be conscious of this that, above everything else, poetry is 
words, and that words, above everything else, are, in 
poetry, sounds. This being so, my time and yours might 
have been better spent if I had been less interested in 
trying to give our possible poet an identity and less in- 
terested in trying to appoint him to his place But unless 
I had done these things, it might have been thought that 
I was rhetorical, when I was speaking in the simplest 
way about things of such importance that nothing is 
more so. A poet's words are of things that do not exist 
without the words Thus, the image of the charioteer and 
of the winged horses, which has been held to be precious 
for all of time that matters, was created by words of 
things that never existed without the words. A descrip- 

The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words 33 

tion of Verrocchio's statue could be the integration of an 
illusion equal to the statue itself Poetry is a revelation in 
words by means of the words Croce was not speaking of 
poetry m particular when he said that language is per- 
petual creation. About nobility I cannot be sure that the 
decline, not to say the disappearance of nobility is any- 
thing more than a maladjustment between the imagina- 
tion and reality We have been a little insane about the 
truth We have had an obsession In its ultimate exten- 
sion, the truth about which we have been insane will 
lead us to look beyond the truth to something in which 
the imagination will be the dominant complement It is 
not only that the imagination adheres to reality, but, also, 
that reality adheres to the imagination and that the inter- 
dependence is essential We may emerge from our has- 
sesse and, if we do, how would it happen if not by the 
intervention of some fortune of the mind' And what 
would that fortune of the mind happen to be? It might 
be only commonsense but even that, a commonsense be- 
yond the truth, would be a nobihty of long descent. 

The poet refuses to allow his task to be set for him. 
He denies that he has a task and considers that the organ- 
ization of materia poetica is a contradiction m terms. Yet 
the imagination gives to everything that it touches a pe- 
culiarity, and it seems to me that the peculiarity of the 
imagination is nobility, of which there are many degrees. 
This inherent nobility is the natural source of another, 
which our extremely headstrong generation regards as 
false and decadent. I mean that nobility which is our 


spiritual height and depth, and while I know how diffi- 
cult it is to express it, nevertheless I am bound to give a 
sense of it. Nothing could be more evasive and inacces- 
sible. Nothing distorts itself and seeks disguise more 
quickly. There is a shame of disclosing it and in its defi- 
nite presentations a horror of it. But there it is. The fact 
that it is there is what makes it possible to invite to the 
reading and writing of poetry men of intelligence and de- 
sire for life I am not thinking of the ethical or the sono- 
rous or at all of the manner of it. The manner of it is, in 
fact, its difficulty, which each man must feel each day 
differently, for himself. I am not thinking of the solemn, 
the portentous or demoded. On the other hand, I am 
evading a definition. If it is defined, it will be fixed and it 
must not be fixed. As in the case of an external thing, 
nobility resolves itself into an enormous number of vibra- 
tions, movements, changes. To fix it is to put an end to 
it. Let me show it to you unfixed 

Late last year Epstein exhibited some of his flower 
paintings at the Leicester Galleries in London. A com- 
mentator in Apollo said. "How with this rage can beauty 
holdaylea . . . The quotation from Shakespeare's 65th 
sonnet prefaces the catalogue. ... It would be apropos 
to any other flower paintings than Mr Epsteins His 
make no pretence to fragility. They shout, explode all 
over the picture space and generally oppose the rage of 
the world with such a rage of form and colour as no 
flower in nature or pigment has done since Van Gogh " 

What ferocious beauty the line from Shakespeare puts 

The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words 35 

on when used under such circumstances' While it has its 
modulation of despair, it holds its plea and its plea is 
noble There is no element more conspicuously absent 
from contemporary poetry than nobility. There is no ele- 
ment that poets have sought after, more curiously and 
more piously, certain of its obscure existence Its voice 
is one of the inarticulate voices which it is their business 
to overhear and to record. The nobility of rhetoric is, of 
course, a lifeless nobility. Pareto's epigram that history 
is a cemetery of aristocracies easily becomes another. 
that poetry is a cemetery of nobilities. For the sensitive 
poet, conscious of negations, nothing is more difficult 
than the affirmations of nobility and yet there is nothing 
that he requires of himself more persistently, since in 
them and in their kind, alone, are to be found those sanc- 
tions that are the reasons for his being and for that occa- 
sional ecstasy, or ecstatic freedom of the mind, which is 
his special privilege. 

It is hard to think of a thing more out of time than no- 
bility. Looked at plainly it seems false and dead and 
ugly. To look at it at all makes us realize sharply that in 
our present, in the presence of our reality, the past looks 
false and is, therefore, dead and is, therefore, ugly; and 
we turn away from it as from something repulsive and 
particularly from the characteristic that it has a way of 
assuming: something that was noble in its day, grandeur 
that was, the rhetorical once. But as a wave is a force 
and not the water of which it is composed, which is never 
the same, so nobility is a force and not the manifestations 


of which it is composed, which are never the same. Pos- 
sibly this description of it as a force will do more than 
anything else I can have said about it to reconcile you 
to it. It is not an artifice that the mind has added to hu- 
man nature The mind has added nothing to human na- 
ture. It is a violence from within that protects us from a 
violence without It is the imagination pressing back 
against the pressure of reality. It seems, in the last analy- 
sis, to have something to do with our self-preservation; 
and that, no doubt, is why the expression of it, the sound 
of its words, helps us to live our lives. 


The Figure of the Youth 

as Virile Poet 

[ 39 ] 


t appears that what is central to philosophy is its 
least valuable part. Note the three scraps that follow 
First, part of a letter from Henry Bradley to Robert 
Bridges, as follows 

My own attitude towards all philosophies old and new, is 
very sceptical Not that I despise philosophy or philos- 
ophers, hut I feel that the universe of being is too vast 
to he comprehended even by the greatest of the sons of 
Adam. We do get., I believe, glimpses of the real prob- 
lems, perhaps even of the real solutions, but when we 
have formulated our questions, I fear we have always 
substituted illusory problems for the real ones. 

This was in reply to a letter from Bridges, in which 
Bridges appears to have commented on Bergson. Then, 
second, it is Bergson that Paul Valery called 

peut-etre Vun des derniers hommes qui auront exclusive- 
ment, profondement et superieurement pense, dans une 
epoque du monde oil le monde va pensant et meditant de 
moins en moms. . . . Bergson semble dqa appartenir a 
un age revolu, et son nom est le dernier grand nom de 
Vhistoire de Tintelhgence europeenne. 


And yet, third, it is of Bergsons VEvolution Creatrice 
that William James said m a letter to Bergson himself 

You may be amused at the comparison, but m finishing it 
I found the same after-taste remaining as after finishing 
Madame Bovary, such a flavor of -persistent euphony. 

If these expressions speak for any considerable number 
of people and, therefore, if any considerable number of 
people feel this way about the truth and about what may 
be called the official view of being (since philosophic 
truth may be said to be the official view), we cannot ex- 
pect much in respect to poetry, assuming that we define 
poetry as an unofficial view of being. This is a much 
larger definition of poetry than it is usual to make But 
just as the nature of the truth changes, perhaps for no 
more significant reason than that philosophers live and 
die, so the nature of poetry changes, perhaps for no more 
significant reason than that poets come and go It is so 
easy to say in a universe of life and death that the reason 
itself lives and dies and, if so, that the imagination lives 
and dies no less. 

Once on a packet on his way to Germany Coleridge 
was asked to Join a party of Danes and drink with them. 
He says: 

I went, and found some excellent wines and a dessert of 
grapes with a pine-apple The Danes had christened me 
Doctor Teology, and dressed as I was all in black, with 

The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet 41 

large shoes and black worsted stockings, I might certainly 
have -passed very well for a Methodist missionary How- 
ever I disclaimed my title. What then may you be . . . 
Un philosophe, perhaps? It was at that time in my life 
in which of all possible names and characters I had the 
greatest disgust to that of un philosophe. . . . The 
Dane then informed me that all in the present party were 
Philosophers likewise . . . We drank and talked and 
sung, till we talked and sung altogether, and then we 
rose and danced on the deck a set of dances. 

As poetry goes, as the imagination goes, as the ap- 
proach to truth, or, say, to being by way of the imagina- 
tion goes, Coleridge is one of the great figures. Even so, 
just as William James found in Bergson a persistent eu- 
phony, so we find in Coleridge, dressed in black, with 
large shoes and black worsted stockings, dancing on the 
deck of a Hamburg packet, a man who may be said to 
have been defining poetry all his life in definitions that 
are valid enough but which no longer impress us pri- 
marily by their validity. 

To define poetry as an unofficial view of being places 
it in contrast with philosophy and at the same time es- 
tablishes the relationship between the two. In philosophy 
we attempt to approach truth through the reason. Ob- 
viously this is a statement of convenience. If we say that 
m poetry we attempt to approach truth through the im- 
agination, this, too, is a statement of convenience. We 
must conceive of poetry as at least the equal of philos- 


ophy If truth is the object of both and if any considerable 
number of people feel very sceptical of all philosophers, 
then, to be brief about it, a still more considerable num- 
ber of people must feel very sceptical of all poets Since 
we expect rational ideas to satisfy the reason and im- 
aginative ideas to satisfy the imagination, it follows that 
if we are sceptical of rational ideas it is because they do 
not satisfy the reason and if we are sceptical of imagina- 
tive ideas it is because they do not satisfy the imagina- 
tion. If a rational idea does not satisfy the imagination, it 
may, nevertheless, satisfy the reason If an imaginative 
idea does not satisfy the reason, we regard the fact as m 
the nature of things. If an imaginative idea does not sat- 
isfy the imagination, our expectation of it is not fulfilled. 
On the other hand, and finally, if an imaginative idea 
satisfies the imagination, we are indifferent to the fact 
that it does not satisfy the reason, although we concede 
that it would be complete, as an idea, if, in addition to 
satisfying the imagination, it also satisfied the reason 
From this analysis, we deduce that an idea that satisfies 
both the reason and the imagination, if it happened, for 
instance, to be an idea of God, would establish a divine 
beginning and end for us which, at the moment, the rea- 
son, singly, at best proposes and on which, at the mo- 
ment, the imagination, singly, merely meditates. This is 
an illustration. It seems to be elementary, from this point 
of view, that the poet, in order to fulfill himself, must ac- 
complish a poetry that satisfies both the reason and the 
imagination. It does not follow that in the long run the 

The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet 43 

poet will find himself in the position in which the philos- 
opher now finds himself. On the contrary, if the end of 
the philosopher is despair, the end of the poet is fulfill- 
ment, since the poet finds a sanction for life in poetry that 
satisfies the imagination. Thus, poetry, which we have 
been thinking of as at least the equal of philosophy, may 
be its superior. Yet the area of definition is almost an 
area of apologetics The look of it may change a little if 
we consider not that the definition has not yet been found 
but that there is none. 


Certainly the definition has not yet been found. You 
will not find it in such works as those on the art of poetry 
by Aristotle and Horace. In his edition of AristouVs 
work Principal Fyfe says that Aristotle did not even ap- 
preciate poetry In the time of Aristotle, there was no 
such word as literature in Greek. Yet today poetry is lit- 
erature more often than not, for poetry partakes of what 
may be called the tendency to become literature Life it- 
self partakes of this tendency, which is a phase of the 
growth of sophistication. Sophistication, in turn, is a 
phase of the development of civilization. Aristotle under- 
stood poetry to be imitation particularly of action in 
drama In Chapter 6, Aristotle states the parts of tragedy, 
among them thought and character, which are not to be 
confused He says that character in a play is that which 
reveals the moral purpose of the agents, i.e , the sort of 
thing they seek or avoid — hence, there is no room for 


character in a speech on a purely indifferent subject The 
annotation of the editor is this . 

A man who chooses, e g., vengeance rather than safety 
reveals his character by exercise of Will. A man who at 
dinner chooses grouse rather than rabbit reveals nothing, 
because no sane man would choose otherwise. 

This sort of thing has nothing to do with poetry. With 
our sense of the imaginative today, we are bound to con- 
sider a language that did not contain a word for literature 
as extraordinary even though the language was the lan- 
guage of Plato With us it is not a paradox to say that 
poetry and literature are close together Although there is 
no definition of poetry, there are impressions, approxima- 
tions. Shelley gives us an approximation when he gives 
us a definition in what he calls "a general sense " He 
speaks of poetry as created by "that imperial faculty 
whose throne is curtained within the invisible nature of 
man. 11 He says that a poem is the very image of life ex- 
pressed in its eternal truth. It is "indeed something di- 
vine. It is at once the centre and circumference of knowl- 
edge ... the record of the best and happiest moments 
of the happiest and best minds ... it arrests the van- 
ishing apparitions which haunt the interlunations of life. 11 
In spite of the absence of a definition and m spite of the 
impressions and approximations we are never at a loss 
to recogmze poetry As a consequence it is easy for us to 
propose a center of poetry, a vis or noeud vital, to which, 
in the absence of a definition, all the variations of defini- 

The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet 45 

tion are peripheral Sometimes we think that a psychol- 
ogy of poetry has found its way to the center We say 
that poetry is metamorphosis and we come to see in a 
few lines descriptive of an eye, a hand, a stick, the 
essence of the matter, and we see it so definitely that we 
say that if the philosopher comes to nothing because he 
fails, the poet may come to nothing because he succeeds. 
The philosopher fails to discover. Suppose the poet dis- 
covered and had the power thereafter at will and by in- 
telligence to reconstruct us by his transformations He 
would also have the power to destroy us If there was, 
or if we believed that there was, a center, it would be 
absurd to fear or to avoid its discovery. 

Since we have no difficulty in recognizing poetry and 
since, at the same time, we say that it is not an attainable 
acme, not some breath from an altitude, not something 
that awaits discovery, after which it will not be subject 
to chance, we may be accounting for it if we say that it 
is a process of the personality of the poet One does not 
have to be a cardinal to make the point To say that it is 
a process of the personality of the poet does not mean that 
it involves the poet as subject Aristotle said: "The poet 
should say very little in propria persona " Without stop- 
ping to discuss what might be discussed for so long, note 
that the principle so stated by Aristotle is cited in relation 
to the point that poetry is a process of the personality of 
the poet. This is the element, the force, that keeps poetry 
a living thing, the modernizing and ever-modern in- 
fluence. The statement that the process does not involve 


the poet as subject, to the extent to which that is true, 
precludes direct egotism. On the other hand, without in- 
direct egotism there can be no poetry. There can be no 
poetry without the personality of the poet, and that, quite 
simply, is why the definition of poetry has not been found 
and why, in short, there is none In one of the really re- 
markable books of the day, The Life of Forms in Art, 
Henri Focillon says: 

Human consciousness is in perpetual pursuit of a lan- 
guage and a style To assume consciousness is at once to 
assume form Even at levels far below the zone of defini- 
tion and clarity, forms, measures and relationships exist 
The chief characteristic of the mind is to he constantly 
describing itself. 

This activity is indirect egotism. The mind of the poet 
describes itself as constantly in his poems as the mind of 
the sculptor describes itself in his forms, or as the mind 
of Cezanne described itself in his "psychological land- 
scapes." We are talking about something a good deal 
more comprehensive than the temperament of the artist 
as that is usually spoken of We are concerned with the 
whole personality and, in effect, we are saying that the 
poet who writes the heroic poem that will satisfy all there 
is of us and all of us in time to come, will accomplish it by 
the power of his reason, the force of his imagination and, 
in addition, the effortless and inescapable process of his 
own individuality. 

It was of the temperament of the artist that Cezanne 

The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet 47 

spoke so frequently in his letters, and while we mean 
something more, so, it seems, did Cezanne He said: 

Primary force alone, id est temperament, can bring a per- 
son to the end he must attain. 


With a small temperament one can he very much of a 
painter. It is sufficient to have a sense of art. . . . 
Therefore institutions, pensions, honours can only be 
made for cretins, rogues and rascals. 

And again, this time to Emile Bernard: 

Your letters are precious to me . . . because their ar- 
rival lifts me out of the monotony which is caused by the 
incessant . . . search for the sole and unique aim. . . . 
I am able to describe to you again . . . the realization of 
that part of nature which, coming into our line of vision, 
gives the picture. Now the theme to develop is that — 
whatever our temperament or power in the presence of 
nature may be — we must render the image of what we 

And, finally, to his son: 

Obviously one must succeed in feeling for oneself and in 
expressing oneself sufficiently. 

An attempt has been made to equate poetry with phi- 
losophy, and to do this with an indication of the possibil- 


ity that an advantage, in the long run, may lie with po- 
etry, and yet it has been said that poetry is personal If 
it is personal in a pejorative sense its value is slight and 
it is not the equal of philosophy. What we have under 
observation, however, is the creative process, the per- 
sonality of the poet, his individuality, as an element in 
the creative process; and by process of the personality of 
the poet we mean, to select what may seem to be a curi- 
ous particular, the incidence of the nervous sensitiveness 
of the poet in the act of creating the poem and, generally 
speaking, the physical and mental factors that condition 
him as an individual If a man's nerves shrink from loud 
sounds, they are quite likely to shrink from strong colors 
and he will be found preferring a drizzle in Venice to a 
hard rain in Hartford Everything is of a piece If he com- 
poses music it will be music agreeable to his own nerves. 
Yet it is commonly thought that the artist is independent 
of his work. In his chapter on u Forms in the Realm of 
the Mmd," M Focillon speaks of a vocation of sub- 
stances, or technical destiny, to which there is a corre- 
sponding vocation of minds; that is to say, a certain order 
of forms corresponds to a certain order of minds These 
things imply an element of change Thus a vocation rec- 
ognizes its material by foresight, before experience As 
an example of this, he refers to the first state of the Pri- 
sons of Piranesi as skeletal But "twenty years later, 
Piranesi returned to these etchings, and on taking them 
up again, he poured into them shadow after shadow, until 
one might say that he excavated this astonishing dark- 

The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet 49 

ness not from the brazen plates, but from the living rock 
of some subterranean world " The way a poet feels when 
he is writing, or after he has written, a poem that com- 
pletely accomplishes his purpose is evidence of the per- 
sonal nature of his activity. To describe it by exaggerating 
it, he shares the transformation, not to say apotheosis, 
accomplished by the poem. It must be this experience 
that makes him think of poetry as possibly a phase of 
metaphysics, and it must be this experience that teases 
him with that sense of the possibility of a remote, a 
mystical vis or noeud vital to which reference has already 
been made. In The Two Sources of Morality and Re- 
ligion, Bergson speaks of the morality of aspiration It 
implicitly contains, he says, 

the feeling of "progress The emotion . . . is the enthu- 
siasm of a forward movement. . . . But antecedent to 
this metaphysical theory . . . are the simpler represen- 
tations ... 0/ the founders of religion, the mystics and 
the saints . . . They begin by saying that what they 
experience is a feeling of liberation . . . 

The feeling is not a feeling peculiar to exquisite or (per- 
haps, as better) precise realization, and hence confined 
to poets who exceed us in nature as they do m speech. 
There is nothing rare about it although it may extend to 
degrees of rarity. On the contrary, just as Bergson refers 
to the simpler representations of aspiration occurring in 
the lives of the saints, so we may refer to the simpler rep- 
resentations of an aspiration (not the same, yet not 


wholly unlike) occurring in the lives of those who have 
Just written their first essential poems. After all, the 
young man or young woman who has written a few 
poems and who wants to read them is merely the voluble 
convert or the person looking in a mirror who sees sud- 
denly the traces of an unexpected genealogy. We are in- 
terested in this transformation primarily on the part of 
the poet. Yet it is a thing that communicates itself to the 
reader. Anyone who has read a long poem day after day 
as, for example, The Faerie Queene, knows how the 
poem comes to possess the reader and how it naturalizes 
him in its own imagination and liberates him there 

This sense of liberation may be examined specifically 
in relation to the experience of writing a poem that com- 
pletely accomplishes the purpose of the poet Bergson had 
in mmd religious aspiration The poet who experiences 
what was once called inspiration experiences both aspira- 
tion and inspiration But that is not a difference, for it is 
clear that Bergson intended to include in aspiration not 
only desire but the fulfillment of desire, not only the peti- 
tion but the harmonious decree What is true of the ex- 
perience of the poet is no doubt true of the experience of 
the painter, of the musician and of any artist If, then, 
when we speak of liberation, we mean an exodus, if 
when we speak of justification, we mean a kind of justice 
of which we had not known and on which we had not 
counted, if when we experience a sense of purification, 
we can think of the establishing of a self, it is certain that 
the experience of the poet is of no less a degree than the 

The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet 51 

experience of the mystic and we may be certain that in 
the case of poets, the peers of saints, those experiences 
are of no less a degree than the experiences of the saints 
themselves It is a question of the nature of the experi- 
ence It is not a question of identifying or relating dissim- 
ilar figures, that is to say, it is not a question of making 
saints out of poets or poets out of saints 

In this state of elevation we feel perfectly adapted to 
the idea that moves and Toiseau qui chante The identity 
of the feeling is subject to discussion and, from this, it 
follows that its value is debatable. It may be dismissed, 
on the one hand, as a commonplace aesthetic satisfaction; 
and, on the other hand, if we say that the idea of God 
is merely a poetic idea, even if the supreme poetic idea, 
and that our notions of heaven and hell are merely poetry 
not so called, even if poetry that involves us vitally, the 
feeling of deliverance, of a release, of a perfection touched, 
of a vocation so that all men may know the truth and that 
the truth may set them free — if we say these things and 
if we are able to see the poet who achieved God and 
placed Him in His seat in heaven in all His glory, the 
poet himself, still in the ecstasy of the poem that com- 
pletely accomplished his purpose, would have seemed, 
whether young or old, whether in rags or ceremonial 
robe, a man who needed what he had created, uttering 
the hymns of joy that followed his creation This may be 
a gross exaggeration of a very simple matter But perhaps 
that remark is true of many of the more prodigious things 
of life and death 



The centuries have a way of being male Without pre- 
tending to say whether they get this character from their 
good heroes or their bad ones, it is certain that they get 
it, in part, from their philosophers and poets It is curious, 
looking back at them, to see how much of the impression 
that they leave has been derived from the progress of 
thought in their time and from the abundance of the arts, 
including poetry, left behind and how little of it comes 
from prouder and much noisier things Thus, when we 
think of the seventeenth century, it is to be remarked 
how much of the strength of its appearance is associated 
with the idea that this was a time when the incredible 
suffered most at the hands of the credible We think of it 
as a period of hard thinking. We have only their records 
and memories by which to recall such eras, not the sight 
and sound of those that lived in them preserved in an 
eternity of dust and dirt When we look back at the face 
of the seventeenth century, it is at the rigorous face of 
the rigorous thinker and, say, the Miltonic image of a 
poet, severe and determined. In effect, what we are 
remembering is the rather haggard background of the 
incredible, the imagination without intelligence, from 
which a younger figure is emerging, stepping forward in 
the company of a muse of its own, still half-beast and 
somehow more than human, a kind of sister of the Mino- 
taur. This younger figure is the intelligence that endures. 
It is the imagination of the son still bearing the antique 

The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet 53 

imagination of the father It is the clear intelligence of 
the young man still bearing the burden of the obscurities 
of the intelligence of the old It is the spirit out of its own 
self, not out of some surrounding myth, delineating with 
accurate speech the complications of which it is com- 
posed For this Aeneas, it is the past that is Anchises 

The incredible is not a part of poetic truth. On the 
contrary, what concerns us in poetry, as m everything 
else, is the belief of credible people in credible things. It 
follows that poetic truth is the truth of credible things, 
not so much that it is actually so, as that it must be so. 
It is toward that alone that it is possible for the intelli- 
gence to move. In one of his letters, Xavier Doudan says* 
u lZ y a longtemps que je pense que celui qui 71 await que 
des idees claixes serait assurement un sot " The reply to 
this is that it is impossible to conceive of a man who has 
nothing but clear ideas, for our nature is an illimitable 
space through which the intelligence moves without com- 
ing to an end. The incredible is inexhaustible but, fortu- 
nately, it is not always the same. We come, m this way, 
to understand that the moment of exaltation that the poet 
experiences when he writes a poem that completely ac- 
complishes his purpose, is a moment of victory over the 
incredible, a moment of purity that does not become any 
the less pure because, as what was incredible is elimi- 
nated, something newly credible takes its place As we 
come to the point at which it is necessary to be explicit 
in respect to poetic truth, note that, if we say that the 
philosopher pursues the truth in one way and the poet in 


another, it is implied that both are pursuing the same 
thing, and we overlook the fact that they are pursuing 
two different parts of a whole. It is as if we said that 
the end of logic, mathematics, physics, reason and imagi- 
nation is all one. In short, it is as if we said that there is 
no difference between philosophic truth and poetic truth. 
There is a difference between them and it is the difference 
between logical and empirical knowledge. Since philoso- 
phers do not agree in respect to what constitutes philo- 
sophic truth, as Bertrand Russell (if any illustration 
whatever is necessary) demonstrates in his Inquiry into 
Meaning and Truth, even in the casual comment that 
truth as a static concept is to be discarded, it may not be 
of much use to improvise a definition of poetic truth. 
Nevertheless, it may be said that poetic truth is an agree- 
ment with reality, brought about by the imagination of a 
man disposed to be strongly influenced by his imagina- 
tion, which he believes, for a time, to be true, expressed 
in terms of his emotions or, since it is less of a restriction 
to say so, in terms of his own personality. And so stated, 
the difference between philosophic truth and poetic truth 
appears to become final. As to the definition itself, it is 
an expedient for getting on. We shall come back to the 
nature of poetic truth very shortly. 

In the most propitious climate and in the midst of life's 
virtues, the simple figure of the youth as virile poet is 
always surrounded by a cloud of double characters, 
against whose thought and speech it is imperative that 
he should remain on constant guard. These are the poetic 

The Figure of the Youth as Vmle Poet 55 

philosophers and the philosophical poets. Mme de Stael 
said "Nos meilleurs poetes, en France, ce sont 
peut-etre nos grands prosateurs, Bossuet, Pascal, Fene- 
lon, Buffon, Jean-Jacques. . . ." M. Claudel added Ra- 
belais, Chateaubriand, even Balzac, and when he did so, 
M Rene Fernandat said "On remarquera que M 
Claudel a supprime les ''peut-etre'' de Mme. de Stael " In 
English the poetic aspect of Bunyan is quite commonly- 
recognized This is an occasion to call attention to Wil- 
liam Penn as an English poet, although he may never 
have written a line of verse But the illustration of Des- 
cartes is irresistible To speak of figures like Descartes as 
double characters is an inconceivable difficulty. In his 
exegesis of The Discourse on Method, Leon Roth says 

His vision showed him first the " dictionary, ^ then the 
"poets,"''' and only afterwards the est et non, and his "ra- 
tionalism,' 1 '' like the "anti-rationalism' 1 '' of Pascal, was the 
product of a struggle not always completely successful. 
What less "rationalistic' 1 could there be than the early 
thought preserved by Baillet from the Olympica (one 
may note in passing the poetical names of all these early 
works) • "There are sentences in the writings of the poets 
more serious than in those of the philosophers. . . . 
There are in us, as in a flint, seeds of knowledge Philos- 
ophers adduce them through the reason; poets strike them 
out from the imagination, and these are the brighter.'" 
It was the "rationalist 1 " 1 Voltaire who first called atten- 
tion to the "poetic" 1 in Descartes. . . . To the casual 


reader there is nothing more remarkable than the care- 
less richness of his style It is full of similes drawn not 
only from the arts, like architecture, painting and the 
stage, but also from the familiar scenes of ordinary and 
country life. . . . And this not only in his early writing 
It is ay-parent even in his latest published work, the sci- 
entific analysis of the ''''passions of the soul," and it was 
Voltaire again who commented first on the fact that the 
last thing from his pen was a ballet written for the Queen 
of Sweden 

The philosopher proves that the philosopher exists The 
poet merely enjoys existence The philosopher thinks of 
the world as an enormous pastiche or, as he puts it, the 
world is as the percipient. Thus Kant says that the ob- 
jects of perception are conditioned by the nature of the 
mind as to their form But the poet says that, whatever 
it may be, la vie est plus belle que les idees One needs 
hardly to be told that men more or less irrational are only 
more or less rational, so that it was not surprising to find 
Raymond Mortimer saying m the New Statesman that 
the "thoughts" of Shakespeare or Raleigh or Spenser 
were in fact only contemporary commonplaces and that 
it was a Victorian habit to praise poets as thinkers, since 
their "thoughts are usually borrowed or confused." But 
do we come away from Shakespeare with the sense that 
we have been reading contemporary commonplaces? 
Long ago, Sarah Bernhardt was playing Hamlet When 
she came to the soliloquy "To be or not to be," she half 

The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet 57 

turned her back on the audience and slowly weaving one 
hand in a small circle above her head and regarding it, 
she said, with deliberation and as from the depths of a 

Wetre ou ne pas d'etre, cest la la question . . . 

and one followed her, lost in the intricate metamorphosis 
of thoughts that passed through the mind with a gallan- 
try, an accuracy of abundance, a crowding and pressing 
of direction, which, for thoughts that were both borrowed 
and confused, cancelled the borrowing and obliterated the 

There is a life apart from politics It is this life that the 
youth as virile poet lives, in a kind of radiant and pro- 
ductive atmosphere It is the life of that atmosphere 
There the philosopher is an alien The pleasure that the 
poet has there is a pleasure of agreement with the radi- 
ant and productive world m which he lives It is an 
agreement that Mallarme found in the sound of 

he vierge, le vivace et le bel au]oura"hui 

and that Hopkins found in the color of 

The thunder-purple seabeach plumed purple-of -thunder. 

The indirect purpose or, perhaps, it would be better to 
say, inverted effect of soliloquies in hell and of most ce- 
lestial poems and, m a general sense, of all music played 
on the terraces of the audiences of the moon, seems to 
be to produce an agreement with reality It is the mundo 


of the imagination in which the imaginative man delights 
and not the gaunt world of the reason The pleasure is 
the pleasure of powers that create a truth that cannot be 
arrived at by the reason alone, a truth that the poet recog- 
nizes by sensation The morality of the poet's radiant and 
productive atmosphere is the morality of the right sen- 

I have compared poetry and philosophy, I have made 
a point of the degree to which poetry is personal, both in 
its origin and in its end, and have spoken of the typical 
exhilaration that appears to be inseparable from genuine 
poetic activity, I have said that the general progress from 
the incredible to the credible was a progress in which 
poetry has participated; I have improvised a definition of 
poetic truth and have spoken of the integrity and pecu- 
liarity of the poetic character Summed up, our position 
at the moment is that the poet must get rid of the hieratic 
in everything that concerns him and must move con- 
stantly in the direction of the credible He must create his 
unreal out of what is real. 

If we consider the nature of our experience when we 
are in agreement with reality, we find, for one thing, that 
we cease to be metaphysicians. William James said: 

Most of them [i e , metaphysicians] have been invalids. 
I am one, cant sleep, cant make a decision, cant buy a 
horse, cant do anything that befits a man, and yet you 

The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet 59 

say from my photograph that I must be a second General 
Sherman., only greater and better! All right 1 I love you 
for the fond delusion. 

For all the reasons stated by William James, and for 
many more, and in spite of M. Jacques Maritain, we do 
not want to be metaphysicians. In the crowd around the 
simple figure of the youth as virile poet, there are meta- 
physicians, among the others And having ceased to be 
metaphysicians, even though we have acquired some- 
thing from them as from all men, and standing in the ra- 
diant and productive atmosphere, and examining first one 
detail of that world, one particular, and then another, as 
we find them by chance, and observing many things that 
seem to be poetry without any intervention on our part, 
as, for example, the blue sky, and noting, in any case, 
that the imagination never brings anything into the world 
but that, on the contrary, like the personality of the poet 
in the act of creating, it is no more than a process, and 
desiring with all the power of our desire not to write 
falsely, do we not begin to think of the possibility that 
poetry is only reality, after all, and that poetic truth is a 
factual truth, seen, it may be, by those whose range in 
the perception of fact — that is, whose sensibility — is 
greater than our own? From that point of view, the truth 
that we experience when we are in agreement with real- 
ity is the truth of fact. In consequence, when men, baf- 
fled by philosophic truth, turn to poetic truth, they return 
to their starting-point, they return to fact, not, it ought to 


be clear, to bare fact (or call it absolute fact), but to fact 
possibly beyond their perception in the first instance and 
outside the normal range of their sensibility What we 
have called elevation and elation on the part of the poet, 
which he communicates to the reader, may be not so 
much elevation as an incandescence of the intelligence 
and so more than ever a triumph over the incredible Here 
as part of the purification that all of us undergo as we ap- 
proach any central purity, and that we feel in its pres- 
ence, we can say: 

No longer do I believe that there is a mystic muse, 
sister of the Minotaur This is another of the monsters I 
had for nurse, whom I have wasted I am myself a part 
of what is real, and it is my own speech and the strength 
of it, this only, that I hear or ever shall 

These words may very well be an inscription above the 
portal to what lies ahead But if poetic truth means fact 
and if fact includes the whole of it as it is between the 
extreme poles of sensibility, we are talking about a thing 
as extensible as it is ambiguous We have excluded abso- 
lute fact as an element of poetic truth But this has been 
done arbitrarily and with a sense of absolute fact as fact 
destitute of any imaginative aspect whatever Unhappily 
the more destitute it becomes the more it begins to be 
precious We must limit ourselves to saying that there are 
so many things which, as they are, and without any in- 
tervention of the imagination, seem to be imaginative ob- 
jects that it is no doubt true that absolute fact includes 

The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet 61 

everything that the imagination includes This is our in- 
timidating thesis 

One sees demonstrations of this eveiy where For ex- 
ample, if we close our eyes and think of a place where it 
would be pleasant to spend a holiday, and if there slide 
across the black eyes, like a setting on a stage, a rock 
that sparkles, a blue sea that lashes, and hemlocks in 
which the sun can merely fumble, this inevitably demon- 
strates, since the rock and sea, the wood and sun are 
those that have been familiar to us in Maine, that much 
of the world of fact is the equivalent of the world of the 
imagination, because it looks like it Here we are on the 
border of the question of the relationship of the imagina- 
tion and memory, which we avoid. It is important to be- 
lieve that the visible is the equivalent of the invisible, 
and once we believe it, we have destroyed the imagina- 
tion, that is to say, we have destroyed the false imagina- 
tion, the false conception of the imagination as some in- 
calculable votes within us, unhappy Rodomontade. One 
is often tempted to say that the best definition of poetry 
is that poetry is the sum of its attributes So, here, we 
may say that the best definition of true imagination is that 
it is the sum of our faculties. Poetry is the scholar's art. 
The acute intelligence of the imagination, the illimitable 
resources of its memory, its power to possess the moment 
it perceives — if we were speaking of light itself, and 
thinking of the relationship between objects and light, 
no further demonstration would be necessary Like light, 
it adds nothing, except itself What light requires a day 


to do, and by day I mean a kind of Biblical revolution of 
time, the imagination does in the twinkling of an eye. It 
colors, increases, brings to a beginning and end, invents 
languages, crushes men and, for that matter, gods in its 
hands, it says to women more than it is possible to say, 
it rescues all of us from what we have called absolute fact 
and while it does these things, and more, it makes sure 

. . . la mandoline jase, 
Parmi les frissons de brise. 

Having identified poetic truth as the truth of fact, since 
fact includes poetic fact, that is to say the indefinite 
number of actual things that are indistinguishable from 
objects of the imagination, and having, as we hope, 
washed the imagination clean, we may now return, once 
again, to the figure of the youth as virile poet and join 
him, or try to do so, in coming to the decision, on which, 
for him and for us, too, so much depends At what level 
of the truth shall he compose his poems? That is the ques- 
tion on which he is reflecting, as he sits in the radiant 
and productive atmosphere, which is his life, surrounded 
not only by double characters and metaphysicians, but by 
many men and many kinds of men, by many women and 
many children and many kinds of women and of children. 
The question concerns the function of the poet today and 
tomorrow, but makes no pretence beyond. He is able to 
read the inscription on the portal and he repeats: 

The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet 63 

I am myself a part of what is real and it is my own 
speech and the strength of it, this only, that I hear or ever 

He says, so that we can all hear him- 

I am the truth, since I am -part of what is real, but 
neither more nor less than those around me And I am 
imagination, m a leaden time and in a world that does not 
move for the weight of its own heaviness 

Can there be the slightest doubt what the decision will 
be ? Can we suppose for a moment that he will be con- 
tent merely to make notes, merely to copy Katahdin, 
when, with his sense of the heaviness of the world, he 
feels his own power to lift, or help to lift, that heaviness 
away 5 Can we think that he will elect anything except 
to exercise his power to the full and at its height, mean- 
ing by this as part of what is real, to rely on his imagina- 
tion, to make his own imagination that of those who have 
none, or little 5 

And how will he do this? It is not possible to say how 
an imaginative person will do a thing Having made an 
election, he will be faithful to the election that he has 
made Having elected to exercise his power to the full 
and at its height, and having identified his power as the 
power of the imagination, he may begin its exercise by 
studying it in exercise and proceed little by little, as he 
becomes his own master, to those violences which are 


the maturity of his desires. The character of the crisis 
through which we are passing today, the reason why we 
live in a leaden time, was summed up in a note on Klaus 
Mann's recent book on Gide, as follows 

The main -problem which Gide tries to solve — the crisis 
of our time — is the reconciliation of the inalienable rights 
of the individual to -personal development and the neces- 
sity for the diminution of the misery of the masses. 

When the poet has converted this into his own terms the 
figure of the youth as virile poet and the community 
growing day by day more and more colossal, the con- 
sciousness of his function, if he is a serious artist, is a 
measure of his obligation And so is the consciousness of 
his history. In the Reflections on History of Jakob Burck- 
hardt, there are some pages of notes on the historical con- 
sideration of poetry. Burckhardt thought (citing Scho- 
penhauer and Aristotle) that poetry achieves more for 
the knowledge of human nature than history Burckhardt 
considers the status of poetry at various epochs, among 
various peoples and classes, asking each time who is sing- 
ing or writing, and for whom Poetry is the voice of re- 
ligion, prophecy, mythology, history, national life and 
inexplicably, for him, of literature. He says* 

It is a matter for great surprise that Virgil, m those cir- 
cumstances, could occupy his high rank, could dominate 
all the age which followed and become a mythical figure 
How infinitely great are the gradations of existence from 
the epic rhapsodist to the novelist of today! 

The Figure of the Youth as Vvnle Poet 6$ 

This was written seventy-five years ago The present 
generation of poets is not accustomed to measure itself 
by obligations of such weight nor to thmk of itself as 
Burckhardt seems to have thought of epic bards or, to 
choose another example at random, of the writers of 
hymns, for he speaks of "the Protestant hymn as the su- 
preme religious expression, especially of the seventeenth 

The poet reflecting on his course, which is the same 
thing as a reflection by him and by us, on the course of 
poetry, will decide to do as the imagination bids, because 
he has no choice, if he is to remain a poet Poetry is the 
imagination of life A poem is a particular of life thought 
of for so long that one's thought has become an insepara- 
ble part of it or a particular of life so intensely felt that 
the feeling has entered into it When, therefore, we say 
that the world is a compact of real things so like the un- 
real things of the imagination that they are indistinguish- 
able from one another and when, by way of illustration, 
we cite, say, the blue sky, we can be sure that the thing 
cited is always something that, whether by thinking or 
feeling, has become a part of our vital experience of life, 
even though we are not aware of it. It is easy to suppose 
that few people realize on that occasion, which comes to 
all of us, when we look at the blue sky for the first time, 
that is to say not merely see it, but look at it and experi- 
ence it and for the first time have a sense that we live in 
the center of a physical poetry, a geography that would be 
intolerable except for the non-geography that exists there 


—few people realize that they are looking at the world 
of their own thoughts and the world of their own feel- 
ings On that occasion, the blue sky is a particular of life 
that we have thought of often, even though uncon- 
sciously, and that we have felt intensely in those crystalli- 
zations of freshness that we no more remember than we 
remember this or that gust of wind in spring or autumn. 
The experiences of thinking and feeling accumulate par- 
ticularly in the abnormal ranges of sensibility, so that, to 
use a bit of M Focillons personal language, while the 
"normative type 11 of poet is likely to be concerned with 
pretty much the same facts as those with which the gen- 
ius, or, rather, the youth as virile poet, is concerned, the 
genius, because of the abnormal ranges of his sensibility, 
not only accumulates experiences with greater rapidity, 
but accumulates experiences and qualities of experience 
accessible only in the extreme ranges of sensibility. 

But genius is not our concern We are trying to define 
what we mean by the imagination of life, and, in addi- 
tion, by that special illumination, special abundance and 
severity of abundance, virtue in the midst of indulgence 
and order in disorder that is involved in the idea of viril- 
ity We have been referring constantly to the simple 
figure of the youth, in his character of poet, as virile poet. 
The reason for this is that if, for the poet, the imagination 
is paramount, and if he dwells apart in his imagination, 
as the philosopher dwells in his reason, and as the priest 
dwells in his belief , the masculine nature that we propose 
for one that must be the master of our lives will be lost 

The Figure of the Youth as Virile Poet 67 

as, for example, in the folds of the garments of the ghost 
or ghosts of Aristotle. As we say these things, there be- 
gins to develop, in addition to the figure that has been 
seated m our midst, composed, m the radiant and produc- 
tive atmosphere with which we have surrounded him, an 
intimation of what he is thinking as he reflects on the im- 
agination of life, determined to be its master and ours 
He is thinking of those facts of experience of which all of 
us have thought and which all of us have felt with such, 
intensity, and he says: 

Inexplicable sister of the Minotaur, enigma and mask, 
although I am part of what is real, hear me and recognize 
me as part of the unreal I am the truth but the truth of 
that imagination of life in which with unfamiliar motion 
and manner you guide me in those exchanges of speech in 
which your words are mine, mine yours. 


Three Academic Pieces 

[?i ] 



.he accuracy of accurate letters is an accuracy 
with respect to the structure of reality. 

Thus, if we desire to formulate an accurate theory of 
poetry, we find it necessary to examine the structure of 
reality, because reality is the central reference for poetry. 
By way of accomplishing this, suppose we examine one 
of the significant components of the structure of reality — 
that is to say, the resemblance between things. 

First, then, as to the resemblance between things in 
nature, it should be observed that resemblance consti- 
tutes a relation between them since, in some sense, all 
things resemble each other. Take, for example, a beach 
extending as far as the eye can reach, bordered, on the 
one hand, by trees and, on the other, by the sea. The sky 
is cloudless and the sun is red In what sense do the ob- 
jects in this scene resemble each other? There is enough 
green in the sea to relate it to the palms. There is enough 
of the sky reflected in the water to create a resemblance, 
in some sense, between them The sand is yellow be- 
tween the green and the blue. In short, the light alone 
creates a unity not only in the recedings of distance, 
where differences become invisible, but also in the con- 
tacts of closer sight. So, too, sufficiently generalized, each 


man resembles all other men, each woman resembles all 
other women, this year resembles last year The begin- 
ning of time will, no doubt, resemble the end of time 
One world is said to resemble another. 

A moment ago the resemblance between things was 
spoken of as one of the significant components of the 
structure of reality It is significant because it creates the 
relation just described. It binds together It is the base of 
appearance In nature, however, the relation is between 
two or more of the parts of reality. In metaphor (and 
this word is used as a symbol for the single aspect of 
poetry with which we are now concerned — that is to say, 
the creation of resemblance by the imagination, even 
though metamorphosis might be a better word) — in met- 
aphor, the resemblance may be, first, between two or 
more parts of reality, second, between something real 
and something imagined or, what is the same thing, be- 
tween something imagined and something real as, for 
example, between music and whatever may be evoked 
by it; and, third, between two imagined things as when 
we say that God is good, since the statement involves a 
resemblance between two concepts, a concept of God 
and a concept of goodness. 

We are not dealing with identity. Both in nature and 
in metaphor identity is the vanishing-point of resem- 
blance. After all, if a mans exact double entered a room, 
seated himself and spoke the words that were in the 
mans mind, it would remain a resemblance James 
Wardrop, in Signature, said recently. 

Three Academic Pieces 73 

The business of the press is to furnish an indefinite pub- 
lic with a potentially indefinite number of identical texts. 

Nature is not mechanical to that extent for all its morn- 
ings and evenings, for all its inhabitants of China or 
India or Russia, for all its waves, or its leaves, or its 
hands Its prodigy is not identity but resemblance and 
its universe of reproduction is not an assembly line but 
an incessant creation Because this is so in nature, it is 
so m metaphor 

Nor are we dealing with imitation The difference 
between imitation and resemblance is a nicety. An imi- 
tation may be described as an identity manque. It is arti- 
ficial It is not fortuitous as a true metaphor is If it is 
an imitation of something in nature, it may even surpass 
identity and assume a praeter-nature It may very well 
escape the derogatory. If it is an imitation of something 
in metaphor, it is lifeless and that, finally, is what is 
wrong with it Resemblance in metaphor is an activity 
of the imagination; and in metaphor the imagination is 
life In Chinese metaphor, there is a group of subjects 
to which poets used to address themselves, just as early 
Western painters and etchers used to address themselves 
to such a subject as the Virgin crowned by Angels The 
variations in these themes were not imitations, nor iden- 
tities, but resemblances. 

In reality, there is a level of resemblance, which is the 
level of nature In metaphor, there is no such level. If 
there were it would be the level of resemblance of the 1m- 


agination, which has no such level. If, to our surprise, we 
should meet a monsieur who told us that he was from 
another world, and if he had in fact all the indicia of di- 
vinity, the luminous body, the nimbus, the heraldic stig- 
mata, we should recognize him as above the level of na- 
ture but not as above the level of the imagination. So, 
too, if, to our surprise, we should meet one of these mo- 
rons whose remarks are so conspicuous a part of the folk- 
lore of the world of the radio— remarks made without 
using either the tongue or the brain, spouted much like 
the spoutings of small whales — we should recognize him 
as below the level of nature but not as below the level of 
the imagination It is not, however, a question of above 
or below but simply of beyond. Level is an abbreviated 
form of level of resemblance. The statement that the im- 
agination has no level of resemblance is not to be taken 
as a statement that the imagination itself has no limits 
The imagination is deceptive in this respect. There is 
a limit to its power to surpass resemblance and that limit 
is to be found in nature. The imagination is able to ma- 
nipulate nature as by creating three legs and five arms 
but it is not able to create a totally new nature as, for 
instance, a new element with creatures indigenous 
thereto, their costumes and cuisines Any discussion of 
level is a discussion of balance as well. Thus, a false ex- 
aggeration is a disturbing of the balance between reality 
and the imagination. 

Resemblances between one object and another as be- 
tween one brick and another, one egg and another, are 

Three Academic Pieces 75 

elementary. There are many objects which in respect to 
what they suggest resemble other objects and we may 
include here, as objects, people. Thus, in addition to the 
fact that one man resembles all other men, something 
about one man may make him resemble some other par- 
ticular man and this is true even when the something 
about him is detached from him, as his wig. The wig of 
a particular man reminds us of some other particular 
man and resembles him. A strand of a child's hair brings 
back the whole child and in that way resembles the child. 
There must be vast numbers of things within this cate- 
gory. Apparently objects of sentiment most easily prove 
the existence of this kind of resemblance: something in 
a locket, one's grandfathers high beaver hat, one's grand- 
mother's hand- woven blankets. One may find intimations 
of immortality in an object on the mantelpiece; and these 
intimations are as real in the mind in which they occur 
as the mantelpiece itself. Even if they are only a part of 
an adult make-believe, the whole point is that the struc- 
ture of reality because of the range of resemblances that 
it contains is measurably an adult make-believe Per- 
haps the whole field of connotation is based on resem- 
blance. Perhaps resemblance which seems to be related 
so closely to the imagination is related even more closely 
to the intelligence, of which perceptions of resemblance 
are effortless accelerations. 

What has just been said shows that there are private 
resemblances. The resemblance of the baby's shoes to 
the baby, by suggestion, is likely to be a resemblance 


that exists for one or two alone A public resemblance, 
by contrast, like the resemblance of the profile of a moun- 
tain to the profile of General Washington, exists for that 
great class of people who co-exist with the great ferns m 
public gardens, amplified music and minor education. 
What our eyes behold may well be the text of life but 
one's meditations on the text and the disclosures of these 
meditations are no less a part of the structure of reality. 
It quite seems as if there is an activity that makes one 
thing resemble another (possibly as a phase of the police 
power of conformity). What the eye beholds may be 
the text of life It is, nevertheless, a text that we do not 
write The eye does not beget in resemblance It sees 
But the mind begets in resemblance as the painter begets 
in representation; that is to say, as the painter makes his 
world within a world, or as the musician begets in music, 
in the obvious small pieces having to do with gardens in 
the rain or the fountains of Rome and m the obvious 
larger pieces having to do with the sea, Brazilian night 
or those woods in the neighborhood of Vienna in which 
the hunter was accustomed to blow his horn and in 
which, also, yesterday, the birds sang preludes to the 
atom bomb. It is not difficult, having once predicated 
such an activity, to attribute it to a desire for resem- 
blance What a ghastly situation it would be if the world 
of the dead was actually different from the world of the 
living and, if as life ends, instead of passing to a former 
Victorian sphere, we passed into a land in which none 
of our problems had been solved, after all, and nothing 

Three Academic Pieces 77 

resembled anything we have ever known and nothing 
resembled anything else in shape, in color, in sound, in 
look or otherwise. To say farewell to our generation and 
to look forward to a continuation in a Jerusalem of puie 
surrealism would account for the taste for oblivion. 

The study of the activity of resemblance is an ap- 
proach to the understanding of poetry. Poetry is a satisfy- 
ing of the desire for resemblance. As the mere satisfying 
of a desire, it is pleasurable But poetry if it did nothing 
but satisfy a desire would not rise above the level of 
many lesser things. Its singularity is that in the act of 
satisfying the desire for resemblance it touches the sense 
of reality, it enhances the sense of reality, heightens it, 
intensifies it If resemblance is described as a partial simi- 
larity between two dissimilar things, it complements and 
reinforces that which the two dissimilar things have in 
common It makes it brilliant When the similarity is be- 
tween things of adequate dignity, the resemblance may be 
said to transfigure or to sublimate them Take, for ex- 
ample, the resemblance between reality and any projec- 
tion of it in belief or in metaphor. What is it that these 
two have in common? Is not the glory of the idea of any 
future state a relation between a present and a future 
glory' The brilliance of earth is the brilliance of every 
paradise. However, not all poetry attempts such gran- 
diose transfiguration Everyone can call to mind a variety 
of figures and see clearly how these resemblances please 
and why; how inevitably they heighten our sense of real- 
ity. The images in Ecclesiastes 


Or ever 
the silver cord be loosed., or the golden bowl be broken, 
ot the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the -wheel 
broken at the cistern — 

these images are not the language of reality, they are the 
symbolic language of metamorphosis, or resemblance, of 
poetry, but they relate to reality and they intensify our 
sense of it and they give us the pleasure of "lentor and 
solemnity" in respect to the most commonplace objects 
These images have a special interest, as a group of im- 
ages in harmony with each other In both prose and po- 
etry, images come willingly but, usually, although there 
is a relation between the subject of the images there is no 
relation between the images themselves A group of im- 
ages in harmony with each other would constitute a poem 
within, or above, a poem. The suggestion sounds euphu- 
lstic. If the desire for resemblance is the desire to enjoy 
reality, it may be no less true that the desire to enjoy 
reality, an acute enough desire today, is the desire for 
elegance Euphuism had its origin in the desire for ele- 
gance and it was euphuism that was a reason in the sun 
for metaphor A school of literary ascetics denying itself 
any indulgence in resemblances would, necessarily, fall 
back on reality and vent all its relish there The meta- 
phorical school, in the end, does the same thing 

The proliferation of resemblances extends an object 
The point at which this process begins, or rather at 
which this growth begins, is the point at "which am- 

Three Academic Pieces 79 

biguity has been reached. The ambiguity that is so fa- 
vorable to the poetic mind is precisely the ambiguity 
favorable to resemblance In this ambiguity, the inten- 
sification of reality by resemblance increases realization 
and this increased realization is pleasurable. It is as if a 
man who lived indoors should go outdoors on a day of 
sympathetic weather His realization of the weather 
would exceed that of a man who lives outdoors. It might, 
in fact, be intense enough to convert the real world about 
him into an imagined world. In short, a sense of reality 
keen enough to be in excess of the normal sense of 
reality creates a reality of its own. Here what matters 
is that the intensification of the sense of reality creates 
a resemblance that reality of its own is a reality. This 
may be going round a circle, first clockwise, then anti- 
clockwise If the savor of life is the savor of reality, 
the fact will estabhsh itself whichever way one ap- 
proaches it 

The relations between the ego and reality must be left 
largely on the margin. Yet Narcissus did not expect, 
when he looked in the stream, to find in his hair a 
serpent coiled to strike, nor, when he looked in his own 
eyes there, to be met by a look of hate, nor, in general, 
to discover himself at the center of an inexplicable ugli- 
ness from which he would be bound to avert himself On 
the contrary, he sought out his image everywhere be- 
cause it was the principle of his nature to do so and, to 
go a step beyond that, because it was the principle of his 
nature, as it is of ours, to expect to find pleasure in what 


he found Narcissism, then, involves something beyond 
the prime sense of the word. It involves, also, this prin- 
ciple, that as we seek out our resemblances we expect 
to find pleasure in doing so, that is to say, in what we 
find So strong is that expectation that we find nothing 
else What is true of the observations of ourselves is 
equally true of the observations of resemblances be- 
tween other things having no relation to us We say 
that the sea, when it expands in a calm and immense re- 
flection of the sky, resembles the sky, and this statement 
gives us pleasure We enjoy the resemblance for the 
same reason that, if it were possible to look into the sea as 
into glass and if we should do so and suddenly should 
behold there some extraordinary transfiguration of our- 
selves, the experience would strike us as one of those 
amiable revelations that nature occasionally vouchsafes 
to favorites So, when we think of arpeggios, we think of 
opening wings and the effect of the resemblance is pleas- 
urable When we read Ecclesiastes the effect of the sym- 
bols is pleasurable because as symbols they are resem- 
blances and as resemblances they are pleasurable and 
they are pleasurable because it is a principle of our nature 
that they should be, the principle being not something 
derived from Narcissism since Narcissism itself is merely 
an evidence of the operation of the principle that we ex- 
pect to find pleasure in resemblances 

We have been trying to get at a truth about poetry, to 
get at one of the principles that compose the theory of 

Three Academic Pieces 81 

poetry It comes to this, that poetry is a part of the struc- 
ture of reality If this has been demonstrated, it pretty 
much amounts to saying that the structure of poetry and 
the structure of reality are one or, in effect, that poetry 
and reality are one, or should be This may be less thesis 
than hypothesis Yet hypotheses relating to poetry, al- 
though they may appear to be very distant illuminations, 
could be the fires of fate, if rhetoric ever meant anything. 

There is a gradus ad Metaphoram The nature of a 
metaphor is, like the nature of a play, comic, tragic, 
tragic-comic and so on. It may be poetic. A poetic meta- 
phor — that is to say, a metaphor poetic in a sense more 
specific than the sense in which poetry and metaphor are 
one— appears to be poetry at its source It is At least 
it is poetry at one of its sources although not necessarily 
the most fecundating But the steps to this particular 
abstraction, the gradus ad Metaphoram in respect to the 
general sense in which poetry and metaphor are one, are, 
like the ascent to any of the abstractions that interest 
us importantly, an ascent through illusion which gathers 
round us more closely and thickly, as we might expect it 
to do, the more we penetrate it. 

In the fewest possible words since, as between resem- 
blances, one is always a little more nearly perfect than 
another and since, from this, it is easy for perfectionism 
of a sort to evolve, it is not too extravagant to think of 
resemblances and of the repetitions of resemblances as 
a source of the ideal. In short, metaphor has its aspect of 


the ideal This aspect of it cannot be dismissed merely 
because we think that we have long since outlived the 
ideal. The truth is that we are constantly outliving it 
and yet the ideal itself remains alive with an enormous 

Three Academic Pieces 83 


juventes, O filii, he contemplates 
A wholly artificial nature, in which 
The profusion of metaphor has been increased. 

It is something on a table that he sees. 
The root of a form, as of this fruit, a fund, 
The angel at the center of this rind, 

This husk of Cuba, tufted emerald, 
Himself, may be, the irreducible X 
At the bottom of imagined artifice, 

Its inhabitant and elect expositor. 

It is as if there were three planets the sun, 

The moon and the imagination, or, say, 

Day, night and man and his endless effigies. 

If he sees an object on a table, much like 

A jar of the shoots of an infant country, green 

And bright, or like a venerable urn, 
Which, from the ash within it, fortifies 
A green that is the ash of what green is, 

He sees it in this tangent of himself. 

And m this tangent it becomes a thing 

Of weight, on which the weightless rests, from which 


The ephemeras of the tangent swarm, the chance 
Concourse of planetary originals. 
Yet, as it seems, of human residence. 


He must say nothing of the fruit that is 
Not true, nor think it, less He must defy 
The metaphor that murders metaphor. 

He seeks as image a second of the self, 
Made subtle by truth's most jealous subtlety, 
Like the true light of the truest sun, the true 

Power in the waving of the wand of the moon, 
Whose shining is the intelligence of our sleep. 
He seeks an image certain as meaning is 

To sound, sound's substance and executant, 
The particular tingle in a proclamation 
That makes it say the little thing it says, 

Below the prerogative jumble. The fruit so seen 
As a part of the nature that he contemplates 
Is fertile with more than changes of the light 

On the table or in the colors of the room 

Its propagations are more erudite, 

Like precious scholia jotted down in the dark. 

Three Academic Pieces 85 

Did not the age that bore him bear him among 
Its infiltrations' There had been an age 
When a pineapple on the table was enough, 

Without the forfeit scholar coming m, 
Without has enkrgings and pale arrondissements, 
Without the furious roar in his capital. 

Green had, those days, its own implacable sting. 
But now a habit of the truth had formed 
To protect him in a privacy, in which 

The scholar, captious, told him what he could 

Of there, where the truth was not the respect of one, 

But always of many things. He had not to be told 

Of the incredible subjects of poetry. 

He was willing they should remain incredible, 

Because the incredible, also, has its truth, 

Its tuft of emerald that is real, for all 

Its invitation to false metaphor 

The incredible gave him a purpose to believe. 

How thick this gobbet is with overlays, 
The double fruit of boisterous epicures, 
Like the same orange repeating on one tree 


A single self Divest reality 

Of its propriety Admit the shaft 

Of that third planet to the table and then: 

i. The hut stands by itself beneath the palms. 

2,. Out of their bottle the green genii come 

3. A vine has climbed the other side of the wall 

4 The sea is spouting upward out of rocks. 

5 The symbol of feasts and of oblivion 

6. White sky, pink sun, trees on a distant peak. 

7. These lozenges are nailed-up lattices 

8 The owl sits humped It has a hundred eyes 
9. The coconut and cockerel in one 

10 This is how yesterday's volcano looks. 

1 1 There is an island Palahude by name — 
12. An uncivil shape like a gigantic haw. 

These casual exfoliations are 

Of the tropic of resemblance, sprigs 

Of Capricorn or as the sign demands, 

Apposites, to the slightest edge, of the whole 
Undescribed composition of the sugar-cone, 
Shiftings of an inchoate crystal tableau, 

Three Academic Pieces 87 

The momentary footings of a climb 

Up the pineapple, a table Alp and yet 

An Alp, a purple Southern mountain bisqued 

With the molten mixings of related things, 
Cat's taste possibly or possibly Danish lore, 
The small luxuriations that portend 

Universal delusions of universal grandeurs, 
The slight incipiences, of which the form, 
At last, is the pineapple on the table or else 

An object the sum of its complications, seen 
And unseen. This is everybody's world. 
Here the total artifice reveals itself 

As the total reality. Therefore it is 

One says even of the odor of this fruit, 

That steeps the room, quickly, then not at all, 

It is more than the odor of this core of earth 
And water It is that which is distilled 
In the prolific ellipses that we know, 

In the planes that tilt hard revelations on 

The eye, a geometric glitter, tiltings 

As of sections collecting toward the greenest cone. 



Since thirty mornings are required to make 
A day of which we say, this is the day 
That we desired, a day of blank, blue wheels, 

Involving the four corners of the sky, 
Lapised and lacqued and freely emeraldine 
In the space it fills, the silent motioner 

There, of clear, revolving crystalline, 
Since thirty summers are needed for a year 
And thirty years, in the galaxies of birth, 

Are time for counting and remembering, 

And fill the earth with young men centuries old 

And old men, who have chosen, and are cold 

Because what they have chosen is their choice 
No more and because they lack the will to tell 
A matin gold from gold of Hesperus 

The dot, the pale pole of resemblances 
Experienced yet not well seen, of how 
Much choosing is the final choice made up, 

And who shall speak it, what child or wanderer 
Or woman weeping in a room or man, 
The last man given for epitome, 

Three Academic Pieces 89 

Upon whose lips the dissertation sounds, 
And in what place, what exultant terminal, 
And at what time both of the year and day; 

And what heroic nature of what text 
Shall be the celebration in the words 
Of that oration, the happiest sense in which 

A world agrees, thought's compromise, resolved 
At last, the center of resemblance, found 
Under the bones of time's philosophers? 

The orator will say that we ourselves 

Stand at the center of ideal time, 

The inhuman making choice of a human self. 

About One of 
Marianne Moore's Poems 

[ 93 ] 


_Y purpose is to bring together one of Miss 
Moore's poems and a paper, "On Poetic Truth, 1 ' by H D 
Lewis. The poem, "He 'Digesteth Harde Yron, 1 " has 
just been reprinted in the Partisan Reader. The paper is 
to be found in the July number (1946) of Philosophy, 
the Journal of the British Institute of Philosophy (Mac- 
millan, London). 

Mr. Lewis begins by saying that poetry has to do with 
reality in its most individual aspect An isolated fact, cut 
loose from the universe, has no significance for the poet. 
It derives its significance from the reality to which it be- 
longs. To see things in their true perspective, we require 
to draw very extensively upon experiences that are past. 
All that we see and hear is given a meaning in this way. 
There is in reality an aspect of individuality at which ev- 
ery form of rational explanation stops short Now, in his 
Euphues, Lyly repeats the following bit of folk-lore. 

Let them both remember that the Estridge 
digesteth harde yron to -preserve his health. 


The "Estridge, 11 then, is the subject of Miss Moore's 
poem In the second stanza she says 

This bird watches his chicks with 
a maternal concentration, after 

he has sat on the eggs 

at night six weeks, his legs 
their only weapon of defense. 

The Encyclopaedia Bntanmca says of the ostrich: 

Extremely fleet of foot, when brought to bay the ostrich 
uses its strong legs with great effect Several hens com- 
bine to lay their eggs in one nest, and on these the cock 
sits by night, while the females relieve one another by 

Somehow, there is a difference between Miss Moore's 
bird and the bird of the Encyclopaedia. This difference 
grows when she describes her bird as 

The friend 
of hippotigers and wild 
asses, it is as 
though schooled by them he was 

the best of the unflying 

The difference signalizes a transition from one reality to 
another It is the reality of Miss Moore that is the indi- 
vidual reality. That of the Encyclopaedia is the reality of 

About One of Marianne Moore'' s Poems 95 

isolated fact. Miss Moore's reality is significant. An 
aesthetic integration is a reality. 

Nowhere in the poem does she speak directly of the 
subject of the poem by its name. She calls it "'the camel- 
sparrow 11 and "the large sparrow Xenophon saw walking 
by a stream, 11 "the bird, 11 u quadruped-like bird 11 and 

alert gargantuan 
little-winged, magnificently 
speedy running-bird. 

This, too, marks a difference To confront fact in its total 
bleakness is for any poet a completely baffling experience. 
Reality is not the thing but the aspect of the thing At 
first reading, this poem has an extraordinarily factual ap- 
pearance But it is, after all, an abstraction Mr Lewis 
says that for Plato the only reality that mattered is ex- 
emplified best for us in the principles of mathematics. 
The aim of our lives should be to draw ourselves away 
as much as possible from the unsubstantial, fluctuating 
facts of the world about us and establish some commun- 
ion with the objects which are apprehended by thought 
and not sense This was the source of Plato's asceticism. 
To the extent that Miss Moore finds only allusion toler- 
able she shares that asceticism While she shares it she 
does so only as it may be necessary for her to do so in 
order to establish a particular reality or, better, a reality 
of her own particulars the "overt 11 reality of Mr Lewis 
Take, for example, her particulars of the bird's egg. She 


The egg -piously shown 

as Leek's very own 
pom which Castor and Pollux hatched, 
was an ostrich-egg. 

Again she speaks of 

gorgeous ugly egg-shell 

It is obvious from these few quotations that Miss Moore 
has already found an individual reality in the ostrich and 
again in its egg. After all, it is the subject in poetry that 
releases the energy of the poet. 

Mr Lewis says that poetry has to do with matter that 
is foreign and alien. It is never familiar to us in the way 
in which Plato wished the conquests of the mind to be 
familiar. On the contrary its function, the need which it 
meets and which has to be met in some way in every age 
that is not to become decadent or barbarous, is precisely 
this contact with reality as it impinges upon us from out- 
side, the sense that we can touch and feel a solid reality 
which does not wholly dissolve itself into the conceptions 
of our own minds. It is the individual and particular that 
does this. No fact is a bare fact, no individual fact is a 
universe in itself. Is not Miss Moore creating or finding 
and revealing some such reality in the stanza that 

About One of Marianne Moore s Poems 97 

Six hundred ostrich-brains served 
at one banquet, the ostrich-plume-tipped tent 
and desert spear . . . 

eight pairs of ostriches 
in harness, dramatize a 

meaning always missed 

by the externalist. 

Here the sparrow-camel is all pomp and ceremony, a part 
of justice of which it was not only the symbol, as Miss 
Moore says, but also the source of its panoply and the 
delicacy of its feasts; that is to say, a part of unprece- 
dented experience. 

Miss Moore's finical phraseology is an element in her 
procedure. These lines illustrate this: 

Although the sepyornis 
or roc that lives in Madagascar, and 
the moa are extinct 


Heroism is exhausting 

But what irrevocably detaches her from the Encyclo- 
paedia is the irony of the following. 

could he, prized for plumes and eggs and young, used 
even as a riding- 
beast, respect men hiding 


actorlike in ostrich-shins, with 

the right hand making the neck move 

as if alive and 

from a hag the left hand 

strewing grain, that ostriches 
might he decoyed and killed' 

and the delighted observation of the following: 

whose comic duckling head on its 

great neck, revolves with compass- 
needle nervousness, 
■when he stands guard, in S- 

lifce foragings as he is 

preening the down on his leaden-skinned hack. 

The gist of the poem is that the camel-sparrow has es- 
caped the greed that has led to the extinction of other 
birds linked to it in size, by its solicitude for its own wel- 
fare and that of its chicks. Considering the great purposes 
that poetry must serve, the interest of the poem is not in 
its meaning but in this, that it illustrates the achieving of 
an individual reality. Mr. Lewis has some very agreeable 
things to say about meaning He says that the extraction 
of a meaning from a poem and appraisement of it by ra- 
tional standards of truth have mainly been due to en- 
thusiasm for moral or religious truth He protests against 
the abstraction of this content from the whole and ap- 
praisement of it by other than aesthetic standards. The 

About One of Marianne Moore's Poems 99 

"something said" is important, but it is important for the 
poem only in so far as the saying of that particular some- 
thing in a special way is a revelation of reality. He says 

If I am right, the essence of art is insight of a special 
land into reality 

Moreover, if he is right, the question as to Miss Moore's 
poem is not in respect to its meaning but in respect to its 
potency as a work of art. Does it make us so aware of 
the reality with which it is concerned, because of the 
poignancy and penetration of the poet, that it forces some- 
thing upon our consciousness? The reality so imposed 
need not be a great reality. 

Of course, if it does, it serves our purpose quite as cer- 
tainly as a less modest poem would serve it It is here, 
Mr Lewis concludes, that the affinity of art and religion 
is most evident today He says that both have to mediate 
for us a reality not ourselves and that this is what the 
poet does and that the supreme virtue here is humility, 
for the humble are they that move about the world with 
the lure of the real in their hearts. 

Life, not the artist, creates or reveals reality: time and 
experience in the poet, in the painter During this last 
September, I visited the old Zeller house in the Tulpe- 
hocken, in Pennsylvania. This family of religious refu- 
gees came to this country in 1709, lived for some fifteen 


or twenty years in the Scoharie region in New York and 
then went down the Susquehanna to the valley in which 
the house was built. Over the door there is an architec- 
tural cartouche of the cross with palm-branches below, 
placed there, no doubt, to indicate that the house and 
those that lived in it were consecrated to the glory of 
God. From this doorway they faced the hills that were 
part of the frame of their valley, the familiar shelter in 
which they spent their laborious lives, happy in the faith 
and worship in which they rejoiced. Their reality con- 
sisted of both the visible and the invisible On another 
occasion, a man went with me to visit Christ Church 
near Stouchsburg This stout old Lutheran felt about his 
church very much as the Irish are said to feel about God. 
Kate O'Brien says that in Ireland God is a member of the 
family. The man told me that last spring a scovy duck 
had built her nest in the chimney of the church When, 
finally, her brood was hatched, the ducklings came out 
of a stove in one of the rooms in the basement of the 
church. There were six of them and they are alive today 
on the sexton's farm. When the committee of the church 
m charge of the building was making its plans last spring, 
this true lover of his church agreed to paint the fence 
around the adjoining graveyard. In part, this fence con- 
sisted of cast-iron spears He painted the spear-head silver 
and the staves black, one by one, week after week, until 
the job was done. Yet obviously this man's reality is the 
church-building but as a fellow-existence, of a sort. 

About One of Marianne Moore's Poems 101 

As we drove along the road, we met one of the Lu- 
theran's friends, who had been leader of the choir in 
Trinity Tulpehocken Reformed Church for more than a 
generation He had wrapped his throat up in flannel be- 
cause, he said, one of his tendons was sore At choir- 
practice the night before, the hymns for the Sunday serv- 
ice had been selected. He was on his way to the church 
to put the numbers in the rack When he had done this, 
he went with us to the old graveyard of this church. This 
was an enclosure of about an acre, possibly a little more. 
The wall was of limestone about four feet high, weather- 
beaten, barren, bald. In the graveyard were possibly 
eight or ten sheep, the color of the wall and of many of 
the gravestones and even of some of the tufts of grass, 
bleached and silvery in the hard sunlight. The droppings 
of the sheep fertilized the soil. There were a few cedars 
here and there but these only accentuated the sense of 
abandonment and destitution, the sense that, after all, 
the vast mausoleum of human memory is emptier than 
one had supposed Near by stood the manse, also of lime- 
stone, apparently vacant, the upper part of each window 
white with the half-drawn blind, the lower part black 
with the vacantness of the place Although the two eld- 
erly men were in a way a diversion from the solitude, 
there could not be any effective diversion from the reality 
that time and experience had created here, the desolation 
that penetrated one like something final. Later, when I 
had returned to New York, I went to the exhibition of 
books in the Morgan Library held by the American In- 


stitute of Graphic Arts The brilliant pages from Poland, 
France, Finland and so on, books of tales, of poetry, of 
folk-lore, were as if the barren reality that I had just ex- 
perienced had suddenly taken color, become alive and 
from a single thing become many things and people, 
vivid, active, intently trying out a thousand characters 
and illuminations. 

It is true that Mr Lewis contemplates a reality ade- 
quate to the profound necessities of life today. But it is 
no less true that it is easier to try to recognize it or some- 
thing like it or the possible beginnings of it than to 
achieve it on that scale Thus, the field m poetry is as 
great as it is in anything else. Nothing illustrates this 
better and nothing illustrates the importance of poetry 
better than this possibility that within it there may yet be 
found a reality adequate to the profound necessities of 
life today or for that matter any day Miss Moore's poem 
is an instance of method and is not an example beyond 
the scale intended by her She may well say: 

Que ce nest pas grand merveille de voir que TOstruche 
digere le /er, veu que les poulles nen font yas moins 

For she is not a proud spirit It may be that proud spirits 
love only the Hon or the elephant with its howdah. Miss 

About One of Marianne Moore's Poems 103 

Moore, however, loves all animals, fierce or mild, an- 
cient or modern When she observes them she is trans- 
ported into the presence of a recognizable reab'ty, be- 
cause, as it happens, she has the faculty of digesting the 
"harde yron" of appearance. 

Effects of Analogy 

[ io7 



.he supreme example of analogy in English is Pil- 
grims Progress. This overwhelms us with direct anal- 
ogy, that is to say the personifications of allegory. 
Thus, in the Second Part where Christiana and young 
Mercy are on their way toward the Caelestial Country 
with Christiana's children to rejoin Christian, they come 
at evening to the house of the Interpreter. After the In- 
terpreter has shown them his house he leads them into 
his garden and 

as they were coming m from abroad, they espied a little 
robin -with a great spider in his mouth So they looked, 
and Mercy wondred, but Christiana said, what a dis- 
paragement is it to such a little pretty bird as the rohin- 
red-breast is, he being also a bird above many that 
loveth to maintain a kind of sociableness with man, I had 
thought they had lived upon crums of bread, or upon 
other such harmless matter I like him worse than I did 
The Interpreter then replied, This robin is an emblem 
very apt to set forth some professors by; for to sight they 
are as this robin, pretty of note colour and carriage They 
seem also to have a very great love for professors that 
are sincere; and above all other to desire to sociate with, 
and to be in their company, as if they could live upon the 


good mans cruras. They pretend also that therefore it is 
that they frequent the house of the godly, and the ap- 
pointments of the Lord, hut when they are hy themselves, 
as the robin, they can catch and gobble up spiders, they 
can change their diet, drink iniquity, and swallow down 
sin like water. 

In French, the supreme example of analogy is, prob- 
ably, the Fables of La Fontaine Of these, none is better 
known than the fable of u The Crow and the Fox, 11 which 
goes, in the translation of Edward Marsh, as follows. 

A Crow sat perched upon an oak, 

And in his beak he held a cheese 

A fox snuffed up the savoury breeze, 

And thus in honey d accent spoke. 

"O Prince of Crows, such grace of mien 

Has never m these parts been seen. 

If but your song be half as good, 

You are the Phoenix of the wood' 11 

The Crow, beside himself with pleasure, 

And eager to display his voice, 

Opened his beak, and dropt his treasure. 

The Fox was on it in a trice. 

"Learn, sir" said he, "that flatterers live 

On those who swaHow what they say 

A cheese is not too much to give 

For such a piece of sound advice 1 '''' 

The Crow, ashamed t'have been such easy prey, 

Swore, though too late, he shouldn't catch him twice. 

Effects of Analogy 109 

As we read Bunyan we are distracted by the double 
sense of the analogy and we are rather less engaged by 
the symbols than we are by what is symbolized. The 
other meaning divides our attention and this diminishes 
our enjoyment of the story But of such an indisputable 
masterpiece it must be true that one reader, oblivious of 
the other meaning, reads it for the story and another 
reader, oblivious of the story, reads it for the other mean- 
ing, and that each finds in perfection what he wants But 
there is a third reader, one for whom the story and the 
other meaning should come together like two aspects that 
combine to produce a third or, if they do not combine, 
inter-act, so that one influences the other and produces 
an effect similar in kind to the prismatic formations that 
occur about us in nature in the case of reflections and re- 
fractions. Bunyan nowhere produces these prismatic crys- 
tallizations As for such things, he might as well be a 
collection of primitive woodcuts In La Fontaine, there 
is a difference. We are not distracted. Our attention is on 
the symbol, which is interesting in itself The other 
meaning does not dog the symbol like its shadow It is 
not attached to it Here the effect of analogy almost 
ceases to exist and the reason for this is, of course, that 
we are not particularly conscious of it We do not have 
to stand up to it and take it. It is like a play of thought, 
some trophy that we ourselves gather, some meaning 
that we ourselves supply. It is like a pleasant shadow, 
faint and volatile In Bunyan, it is the other meaning that 
is the solid matter, in La Fontaine, the solid matter is 


the story. The difference may be a national difference. 
We are interested m it only as a difference. 

Commonly, analogy is a term in logic. Susan Stebbing 
in her Logic m Practice says 

Inference by analogy consists in inferring that, since 
two cases are alike in certain respects, they will also be 
alike in some other respect For example, since Mars re- 
sembles the Earth in certain respects, we infer that Mars 
also is inhabited This may be a very risky inference, for 
Mars differs from the Earth in some respects, and these 
differences may be relevant to the property of being in- 

Now, we are not thinking, here, of analogy in this 
narrow sense. We are thinking of it as likeness, as re- 
semblance between parallels and yet parallels that are 
parallels only m the imagination, and we are thinking of 
it in its relation to poetry Finally we are thinking of it 
from the point of view of the effect it produces The other 
day, Kenneth Burke, in the course of a review of Rose- 
mond Tuve's Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery, re- 
ferred to the introduction of rhetoric into the analysis of 
imagery. He said that it gave a clear picture of the ways 
in which logic, rhetoric and poetic are interwoven 

in contrast with the doctrines of those who would con- 
fine logic to science, rhetoric to propaganda or advertis- 

Effects of Analogy 


mg, and thus leave for -poetic a few spontaneous sensa- 
tions not much higher m the intellectual scale than the 
twitchings of a decerebrated frog 

The analogy between the spontaneous sensations of a 
poet and the muscular twitchings of a decerebrated frog 
communicated Mr Burke's antipathy to the doctrines on 
which he was commenting and was a way of charac- 
terizing those doctrines as at once futile, ugly and ludi- 
crous His analogy had its source in a feeling of scorn 
and took the form of an image that expressed his scorn. 
In short, his image had its origin in an emotion, was 
charged with that emotion and became the medium for 
communicating it Thus, it belongs to that large class of 
images of emotional origin in which the nature of the 
image is analogous to the nature of the emotion from 
which it springs, and when one speaks of images, one 
means analogies If, then, an emotional image or, say, 
an emotional analogy communicates the emotion that 
generates it, its effect is to arouse the same emotion in 
others. There is nothing of this in the sort of analogy that 
we find in Pilgrim's Progress The very scale and de- 
liberateness of allegory are against it To be sure, Pil- 
grims Progress is prose. In a long poem, so many emo- 
tions, so many sensations, are stirred up into activity 
that, after a time, the reader finds himself in a state of 
such sensibility that it cannot be said that the scale and 
deliberateness of allegory fail to produce an emotional 
effect. A prolonged reading of Spenser's Faerie Queene, 


for instance, creates just such a state of sensibility In 
general, long poems have this attribute, derived from 
their very length, assuming that they have been charged 
throughout with the emotions of the poet. 

In order to see how true it is that in images of emo- 
tional origin the image partakes of the nature of the emo- 
tion, let us analyze a passage from one of the poems of 
Allen Tate He is looking at a young woman dead in her 
bed. He says: 

For look you how her body stiffly lies 
Just as she left it, unprepared to stay, 
The posture waiting on the sleeping eyes, 
While the bodys life, deep as a covered well, 
Instinctive as the wind, busy as May, 
Burns out a secret passageway to hell 

He is moved by the ghastliness and ghostliness of the 
body before him He communicates the ghastliness by 
a direct statement her body stiffly lies But the ghostli- 
ness he communicates by making of the posture one 
of death's attendants. The thoughts of life and death 
commingle. Under the hidden image of the tomb, her 
spirit is instinctive as the wind in its blind and fateful 

A scene not too dissimilar gives rise to a different feel- 
ing in John Crowe Ransom. In his Bells for John White- 
side's Daughter, he begins by describing her quizzically 
and yet as a little old lady who used to harry the geese on 
her pond and, with a rod, make them rise: 

Effects of Analogy no 

But now go the bells, and we are ready, 
In our house we are sternly stopped 
To say we are vexed at her brown study, 
Lying so ■primly propped 

What is it that Mr Ransom feels at the sight of John 
Whiteside's daughter, dead, except the same quizzicality 
that he felt at the sight of her alive? He communicates 
this in a quizzical image of death as a brown study, but 
as a brown study vexing in the case of one that lies so 
primly propped Neither Mr. Tate nor Mr. Ransom is an 
emotional poet Nor with such men is it a question of 
degree. Rather, their sensibilities have large orbits. 

We have not been dealing, up to this point, with the 
appositeness of figures of speech but with their emotional 
authenticity, which they have the power to propagate. 
The emotional analogy is only one. When St Matthew 
in his Gospel says that Jesus went about all the cities, 
teaching and preaching, and that 

when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with com- 
passion on them, because they . . . were scattered 
abroad, as sheev having no shepherd, 

the analogy between the multitudes scattered abroad and 
sheep having no shepherd is not an emotional analogy. 
On the contrary, it is as if Matthew had poised himself 
if only for an instant, had invoked his imagination and 
had made a choice of what it offered to his mind, a choice 
based on the degree of the appositeness of the image He 
could do this without being notably deliberate because 


the imagination does not require for its projections the 
same amount of time that the reason requires I spoke a 
moment ago of a reader for whom the two elements of an 
analogy should combine to produce a third There is still 
another reader for whom the effect of analogy is the effect 
of the degree of appositeness, for whom the imaginative 
projection, the imaginative deviation, raises the question 
of Tightness, as if in the vast association of ideas there 
existed for every object its appointed objectification In 
such a case, the object and its image become inseparable 
It follows that for this fourth reader the effect of anal- 
ogy is the effect of consummation. The example from 
Matthew is not only a good example, but a familiar one 
One almost equally f amiliar is from the Greek Anthology, 
m Professor MackaiFs translation: 

Even as a Mine on her dry pole I support myself now 
on a staff and death calls me to Hades. 

This epigram has about it something of the modern sense 
of epigram Leonidas does not compare himself to a vine 
on her dry pole without a certain slyness. The image is 
not only that of the old man wandering on the edge of 
night It includes, also, something of his tatteredness, 
something of the weather-beaten figure of the vagabond, 
which by its eccentricity arouses the sense of pathos but 
not the feeling of sorrow These two citations, the one 
of sheep having no shepherd and the other of the vine on 
her dry pole, quite adequately illustrate the discipline that 
comes from appositeness in the highest degree 

Effects of Analogy ng 

It is primarily a discipline of Tightness The poet is 
constantly concerned with two theories One relates to 
the imagination as a power within him not so much to 
destroy reality at will as to put it to his own uses He 
comes to feel that his imagination is not wholly his own 
but that it may be part of a much larger, much more po- 
tent imagination, which it is his affair to try to get at 
For this reason, he pushes on and lives, or tries to live, 
as Paul Valery did, on the verge of consciousness This 
often results in poetry that is marginal, subliminal The 
same theory exists in relation to prose, to painting and 
other arts The second theory relates to the imagination 
as a power within him to have such insights into reality 
as will make it possible for him to be sufficient as a poet 
in the very center of consciousness This results, or 
should result, in a central poetry Dr Whitehead con- 
cluded his Modes of Thought by saying. 

. . . the purpose of philosophy is to rationalize mysti- 
cism. . . . Philosophy is akin to poetry, and both of 
them seek to express that ultimate good sense -which we 
term civilization. 

The proponents of the first theory believe that it will be 
a part of their achievement to have created the poetry of 
the future. It may be that the poetry of the future will 
be to the poetry of the present what the poetry of the 
present is to the ballad The proponents of the second 
theory believe that to create the poetry of the present is 
an incalculable difficulty, which rarely is achieved, fully 


and robustly, by anyone. They think that there is enough 
and more than enough to do with what faces us and 
concerns us directly and that in poetry as an art, and, 
for that matter, in any art, the central problem is al- 
ways the problem of reality. The adherents of the im- 
agination are mystics to begin with and pass from one 
mysticism to another The adherents of the central are 
also mystics to begin with But all their desire and all 
their ambition is to press away from mysticism toward 
that ultimate good sense which we term civilization 
The analogy of Matthew and the image of Leonidas are 
particles of that ultimate good sense. 

In departing from the finality and Tightness of two 
ancient specimens, let us make use of a third for the 
purpose of pointing out that it is not possible to measure 
the distances away from Tightness except in the roughest 
manner nor to indicate anything more than crude dif- 
ferences of effect. Virgil, in the first book of the Georgics, 
in Day Lewis' translation, says. 

Winter's an off-time 
For farmers . . . 

and they forget their worries; 
Just as, when ships in cargo have come to -port at last, 
Glad to he home the sailors adorn their poops with gar- 

This expresses an analogy between farmers after a sum- 
mer and sailors after a voyage, fortified by secondary 
analogies between the worries of farmers and the trials 

Effects of Analogy 117 

of sailors, between crops and cargoes and between har- 
vesting and making port. It is therefore a figure over 
which Virgil did something more than poise himself for 
an instant. It is a considered elaboration, a prototype of 
the considered elaborations with which in the eighteenth 
century, say, English poets were accustomed to em- 
bellish their pages It does not click. If it is apposite at 
all it is only after we have thought about it and by that 
time we have lost interest in it. It is one of the multitude 
of figures of speech that are merely idle. It does not raise 
any question of taste Nothing m Virgil could. One re- 
members the description of Virgil as the delight of all 
men of taste. Nevertheless, to go back to Allen Tate, it 
is just not a thing that 

. . . strikes like a hawk the crouching hare. 

It would not be hard to find elsewhere examples of 
analogy displaying this or that defect, artificiality, in- 
congruity, lack of definition. This is not an anatomy of 
metaphor. Nor is it an attempt to do more than to single 
out a few of the effects of analogy. The field must be one 
which has already been examined, for other purposes, by 
literary critics and historians, writers on aesthetics, psy- 
chologists, Freudians. Poetry is almost incredibly one 
of the effects of analogy. This statement involves much 
more than the analogy of figures of speech, since other- 
wise poetry would be little more than a trick. But it is 
almost incredibly the outcome of figures of speech or, 
what is the same thing, the outcome of the operation of 


one imagination on another through the instrumentality 
of the figures To identify poetry and metaphor or meta- 
morphosis is merely to abbreviate the last remark There 
is always an analogy between nature and the imagina- 
tion, and possibly poetry is merely the strange rhetoric 
of that parallel a rhetoric in which the feeling of one 
man is communicated to another in words of the ex- 
quisite appositeness that takes away all their verbality. 

Another mode of analogy is to be found in the per- 
sonality of the poet. But this mode is no more limited to 
the poet than the mode of metaphor is so limited. This 
mode proposes for study the poet's sense of the world 
as the source of poetry. The corporeal world exists as 
the common denominator of the incorporeal worlds of its 
inhabitants. If there are people who live only in the 
corporeal world, enjoying the wind and the weather and 
supplying standards of normality, there are other people 
who are not so sure of the wind and the weather and 
who supply standards of abnormality. It is the poet's 
sense of the world that is the poet's world The corporeal 
world, the familiar world of the commonplace, in short, 
our world, is one sense of the analogy that develops be- 
tween our world and the world of the poet The poet's 
sense of the world is the other sense. It is the analogy 
between these two senses that concerns us. 

We could not speak of our world as something to be 
distinguished from the poet's sense of it unless we ob- 

Effects of Analogy 119 

jectified it and recognized it as having an existence apart 
from the projection of his personality, as land and sea, 
sky and cloud He himself desires to make the distinction 
as part of the process of realizing himself. Once the dis- 
tinction has been made, it becomes an instrument for 
the exploration of poetry By means of it we can deter- 
mine the relation of the poet to his subject This would 
be simple if he wrote about his own world. We could 
compare it with ours But what he writes about is his 
sense of our world If he is a melancholy person he gives 
us a melancholy sense of our world. By way of illustra- 
tion, here is a passage from James Thomson's The City of 
Dreadful Night: 

We do not ask a longer term of strife, 
Weakness and weariness and nameless woes 

We do not claim renewed and endless life 

When this which is our torment here shall close. 

An everlasting conscious inanition I 

We yearn for speedy death in full fruition. 
Dateless oblivion and divine repose. 

On the other hand, a stronger man, Walt Whitman, in 
A Clear Midnight gives us this 

This is thy hour, O soul, thy free flight into the wordless. 
Away from hooks, away from art, the day erased, the 

lesson done, 
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, -pondering the 

themes thou lovest best, 
Night, sleep, death and the stars. 


The illustrations are endless but really none is re- 

A man's sense of the world is born with him and 
persists, and penetrates the ameliorations of education 
and experience of life His species is as fixed as his genus 
For each man, then, certain subjects are congenital 
Now, the poet manifests his personality, first of all, by 
his choice of subject Temperament is a more explicit 
word than personality and would no doubt be the exact 
word to use, since it emphasizes the manner of thinking 
and feeling It is agreeable to think of the poet as a whole 
biological mechanism and not as a subordinate mecha- 
nism within that larger one, Temperament, too, has at- 
tracted a pejorative meaning It should be clear that in 
dealing with the choice of subject we are dealing with 
one of the vital factors in poetry or in any art. Great num- 
bers of poets come and go who have never had a subject 
at all What is true of poets in this respect is equally true 
of painters, as the existence of schools of painters all do- 
ing more or less the same thing at the same time demon- 
strates The leader of the school has a subject. But his 
followers merely have his subject Thus Picasso has a 
subject, a subject that devours him and devastates his 
region Possibly a better illustration would be one that is 
less intimidating Whether we like it or not, all of us who 
have radios or who go to the movies hear a great deal of 
popular music. Usually this is music without a subject 
You have only to tabulate the titles of the songs you 
hear over a short period of time to convince yourself of 

Effects of Analogy 121 

this The titles are trivial, catchy, trite and silly. Love is 
not a subject unless the writer of the song is in love A 
man peddles love-songs because it is easier to do than it 
is to peddle coconuts, and this is as true of the man who 
writes the words as it is of the man who writes the music 
What is the poet's subject 5 It is his sense of the world. 
For him, it is inevitable and inexhaustible. If he departs 
from it he becomes artificial and laborious and while his 
artifice may be skillful and his labor perceptive no one 
knows better than he that what he is doing, under such 
circumstances, is not essential to him It may help him 
to feel that it may be essential to someone else But this 
justification, though it might justify what he does in the 
eyes of all the world, would never quite justify him in his 
own eyes There is nothing of selfishness in this. It is 
often said of a man that his work is autobiographical in 
spite of every subterfuge It cannot be otherwise. Cer- 
tainly, from the point of view from which we are now 
regarding it, it cannot be otherwise, even though it may 
be totally without reference to himself There was a time 
when the ivory tower was merely a place of seclusion, 
like a cottage on a hill-top or a cabin by the sea. Today, 
it is a kind of lock-up of which our intellectual constables 
are the appointed wardens. Is it not time that someone 
questioned this degradation, not for the purpose of restor- 
ing the isolation of the tower but in order to establish the 
integrity of its builder? Our rowdy gun-men may not 
appreciate what comes from that tower Others do Was 
there ever any poetry more wholly the poetry of the 


ivory tower than the poetry of Mallarme? Was there ever 
any music more wholly the music of the ivory tower than 
the music of Debussy' 

The truth is that a man's sense of the world dictates 
his subjects to him and that this sense is derived from his 
personality, his temperament, over which he has little 
control and possibly none, except superficially. It is not 
a literary problem It is the problem of his mind and 
nerves These sayings are another form of the saying 
that poets are born not made. A poet writes of twilight 
because he shrinks from noon-day He writes about the 
country because he dislikes the city, and he likes the one 
and dislikes the other because of some trait of mind or 
nerves, that is to say, because of something in himself 
that influences his thinking and feeling. So seen, the 
poet and his subject are inseparable There are stresses 
that he invites, there are stresses that he avoids There 
are colors that have the blandest effect on him, there are 
others with which he can do nothing but find fault. In 
music he likes the strings. But the horn shocks him A 
flat landscape extending in all directions to immense dis- 
tances placates him But he shrugs his shoulders at moun- 
tains One young woman seems to be someone that he 
would like to know, another seems to be someone that he 
must know without fail 

Recently, a very great deal has been said about the 
relation of the poet to his community and to other people, 
and as the propaganda on behalf of the community and 
other people gathers momentum a great deal more will 

Effects of Analogy 123 

be said But if a poet's subject is congenital this is beside 
the point Or is it? The ivory tower was offensive if the 
man who lived in it wrote, there, of himself for himself 
It was not offensive if he used it because he could do 
nothing without concentration, as no one can, and be- 
cause, there, he could most effectively struggle to get at 
his subject, even if his subject happened to be the com- 
munity and other people, and nothing else It may be that 
the poet's congenital subject is precisely the community 
and other people. If it is not, he may have to ask Shosta- 
kovich and Prokofiev and their fellow musicians and such 
writers as Michael Zoshchenko what to do next These 
men, who backslide once in so often, should know They 
are experienced 

The second way by which a poet manifests his per- 
sonality is by his style. This is too well understood to per- 
mit discussion What has just been said with respect to 
choice of subject applies equally to style. The individual 
dialect of a poet who happens to have one, analogous to 
the speech common to his time and place and yet not that 
common speech, is in the same position as the language 
of poetry generally when the language of poetry generally 
is not the common speech. Both produce effects singular 
to analogy. Beyond that the dialect is not in point 

A man's sense of the world may be only his own or it 
may be the sense of many people Whatever it is it in- 
volves his fate It may involve only his own or it may 
involve that of many people The measure of the poet is 
the measure of his sense of the world and of the extent 


to which it involves the sense of other people. We have 
to stop and think now and then of what he writes as 
implicit with that significance. Thus in the lines of 

Even as a vine on her dry -pole I support myself now 
on a staff and death calls me to Hades 

we have to think of the reality and to read the lines as one 
having the reality at heart, an old man at that point at 
which antiquity begins to resume what everything else 
has left behind; or if you think of the lines as a figuration 
of despair on the part of the poet, and it is possible to 
change them into such a figuration, to read them as lines 
communicating a feeling that it was not within the poet's 
power to suppress. 

Still another mode of analogy is to be found in the 
music of poetry. It is a bit old hat and romantic and, no 
doubt at all, the dated forms are intolerable In recent 
years, poetry began to change character about the time 
when painting began to change character Each lost a 
certain euphrasy. But, after all, the music of poetry has 
not come to an end. Is not Eliot a musical poet? Listen to 
part of what the lamp hummed of the moon in Rhapsody 
on a Windy Night- 

A washed-out smallpox cracks her face, 
Her hand twists a paper rose, 
That smells of dust and old Cologne, 
She is alone 

Effects of Analogy I2 h 

With all the old nocturnal smells 

That ctoss and ctoss across her brain. 

The reminiscence comes 

Of sunless dry geraniums 

And dust va crevices, 

Smells of chestnuts in the streets 

And female smells in shuttered rooms 

And cigarettes in corridors 

And cocktail smells in bars 

This is a specimen of what is meant by music today. It 
contains rhymes at irregular intervals and it is intensely 
cadenced. But yesterday, or the day before, the time from 
which the use of the word "music" in relation to poetry 
has come down to us, music meant something else. It 
meant metrical poetry with regular rhyme schemes re- 
peated stanza after stanza All of the stanzas were alike 
in form. As a result of this, what with the repetitions of 
the beats of the lines, and the constant and recurring 
harmonious sounds, there actually was a music. But with 
the disappearance of all this, the use of the word "music" 
m relation to poetry is as I said a moment ago a bit old 
hat anachronistic Yet the passage from Eliot was mu- 
sical It is simply that there has been a change in the 
nature of what we mean by music. It is like the change 
from Haydn to a voice intoning It is like the voice of an 
actor reciting or declaiming or of some other figure con- 
cealed, so that we cannot identify him, who speaks with 
a measured voice which is often disturbed by his feeling 


for what he says There is no accompaniment. If occa- 
sionally the poet touches the triangle or one of the cym- 
bals, he does it only because he feels like doing it In- 
stead of a musician we have an orator whose speech 
sometimes resembles music We have an eloquence and 
it is that eloquence that we call music every day, without 
having much cause to think about it. 

What has this music to do with analogy? When we 
hear the music of one of the great narrative musicians, as 
it tells its tale, it is like finding our way through the dark 
not by the aid of any sense but by an instinct that makes 
it possible for us to move quickly when the music moves 
quickly, slowly when the music moves slowly. It is a 
speed that carries us on and through every winding, once 
more to the world outside of the music at its conclusion. 
It affects our sight of what we see and leaves it ambigu- 
ous, somewhat like one thing, somewhat like another In 
the meantime the tale is being told and the music excites 
us and we identify it with the story and it becomes the 
story and the speed with which we are following it. 
When it is over, we are aware that we have had an ex- 
perience very much like the story just as if we had par- 
ticipated in what took place It is exactly as if we had 
listened with complete sympathy to an emotional recital. 
The music was a communication of emotion It would 
not have been different if it had been the music of poetry 
or the voice of the protagonist telling the tale or speaking 
out his sense of the world How many things we should 
have found like in either easel 

Effects of Analogy I2 y 


I have spoken of several kinds of analogy I began 
with the personifications of Bunyan and the ammaliza- 
tions of La Fontaine. I then spoke of emotional images , 
taking illustrations from several sources, principally Ken- 
neth Burke. Next I spoke of what may be called volun- 
tary images, quoting from St. Matthew, Leonidas of 
Tarentum and Virgil. Finally I spoke of what may be 
called involuntary images, quoting from James Thomson 
and Walt Whitman and referring to music. It is time, 
therefore, to attempt a few generalizations, slight as the 
data may be Accordingly, our first generalization is this 
Every image is the elaboration of a particular of the sub- 
ject of the image If this is true it is a realistic explanation 
of the origin of images. Let us go back to the quotation 
from St Matthew. Jesus went about all the cities, teach- 
ing and preaching, and 

when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with com- 
passion on them, because they . . . were scattered 
abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. 

The analogy between men and sheep does not exist under 
all circumstances. There came into Matthew's mind in 
respect to Jesus going about, teaching and preaching, the 
thought that Jesus was a shepherd and immediately the 
multitudes scattered abroad and sheep having that par- 
ticular in common became interchangeable. The image 


is an elaboration of the particular of the shepherd In the 
lines from Leonidas . 

Even as a vine on her dry pole I support myself now on 
a staff and death calls me to Hades 

the particular is the staff This becomes the dry pole, and 
the vine follows after There is no analogy between a vine 
and an old man under all circumstances But when one 
supports itself on a dry pole and the other on a staff, the 
case is different Two casual illustrations are not enough 
to establish a principle. But they are enough to suggest 
the possibility of a principle. 

Our second generalization, based on even slighter data, 
and proposed in the same experimental way, is this : Ev- 
ery image is a restatement of the subject of the image in 
the terms of an attitude The metaphor from Kenneth 
Burke illustrates this Since it has already been analyzed, 
I merely refer to it If there is any merit to what was said 
about the sense of the world, that also illustrates the 

Our third generalization is this : Every image is an in- 
tervention on the part of the image-maker. One does not 
feel the need of so many reservations, if of any, in the 
case of this principle But then of the three it is the one 
that matters least. It refers to the sense of the world, as 
the second principle did, and it could be said to be a phase 
of the second principle, if it did not refer to style in addi- 
tion to the sense of the world The second principle does 
not refer to style. 

Effects of Analogy 129 

It is rime, too, to attempt a few simplifications of the 
whole subject by way of summing it up and of coming 
to an end. With one or two exceptions, all of the ex- 
amples that we have made use of have been pictorial. The 
image has been descriptive or explanatory of the subject 
of the image. To say the same thing another way, the 
thing stated has been accompanied by a restatement and 
the restatement has illustrated and given definition to the 
thing stated. The thing stated and the restatement have 
constituted an analogy. The venerable, the fundamental 
books of the human spirit are vast collections of such 
analogies and it is the analogies that have helped to make 
these books what they are. The pictorializations of poetry 
include much more than figures of speech We have not 
been studying images, but, however crudely, analogies, 
of which images are merely a part. Analogies are much 
the larger subject. And analogies are elusive Take the 
case of a man for whom reality is enough, as, at the end 
of his life, he returns to it like a man returning from 
Nowhere to his village and to everything there that is 
tangible and visible, which he has come to cherish and 
wants to be near. He sees without images But is he not 
seeing a clarified reality of his own? Does he not dwell 
in an analogy? His imageless world is, after all, of the 
same sort as a world full of the obvious analogies of hap- 
piness or unhappiness, innocence or tragedy, thought- 
lessness or the heaviness of the mind In any case, these 
are the pictorializations of men, for whom the world 
exists as a world and for whom life exists as life, the ob- 


jects of their passions, the objects before which they 
come and speak, with intense choosing, words that we 
remember and make our own Their words have made a 
world that transcends the world and a life livable in that 
transcendence It is a transcendence achieved by means 
of the minor effects of figurations and the major effects of 
the poet's sense of the world and of the motive music 
of his poems and it is the imaginative dynamism of all 
these analogies together Thus poetry becomes and is a 
transcendent analogue composed of the particulars of 
reality, created by the poet's sense of the world, that is to 
say, his attitude, as he intervenes and interposes the ap- 
pearances of that sense. 

Imagination as Value 

[ 133 ] 


_t does not seem possible to say of the imagination 
that it has a certain single characteristic which of itself 
gives it a certain single value as, for example, good or 
evil. To say such a thing would be the same thing as to 
say that the reason is good or evil or, for that matter, that 
human nature is good or evil. Since that is my first point, 
let us discuss it. 

Pascal called the imagination the mistress of the world. 
But as he seems never to have spoken well of it, it is 
certain that he did not use this phrase to speak well of 
it. He called it the deceptive element in man, the mistress 
of error and duplicity and yet not always that, since there 
would be an infallible measure of truth if there were an 
infallible measure of untruth But being most often false, 
it gives no sign of its quality and indicates in the same 
way both the true and the false. A little farther on in his 
Pensees he speaks of magistrates, their red robes, their 
ermines in which they swathe themselves, like furry cats, 
the palaces in which they sit in judgment, the fleurs-de- 
lis, and the whole necessary, august apparatus He says, 
and he enjoys his own malice in saying it, that if medical 
men did not have their cassocks and the mules they wore 
and if doctors did not have their square hats and robes 


four times too large, they would never have been able to 
dupe the world, which is incapable of resisting so genu- 
ine a display He refers to soldiers and kings, of whom lie 
speaks with complete caution and respect, saying that 
they establish themselves by force, the others "par gri- 
mace " He justifies monarchs by the strength they possess 
and says that it is necessary to have a well-defined reason 
to regard like anyone else the Grand Seigneur sur- 
rounded, in his superb seraglio, by forty thousand janis- 

However this may be, if respect for magistrates can 
be established by their robes and ermines and if justice 
can be made to prevail by the appearance of the seats of 
justice and if vast populations can be brought to live 
peacefully in their homes and to lie down at night with 
a sense of security and to get up in the morning confident 
that the great machine of organized society is ready to 
carry them on, merely by dressing a few men in uniform 
and sending them out to patrol the streets, the sort of 
thing that was the object of Pascal's ridicule and that 
was, to his way of thinking, an evil, or something of an 
evil, becomes to our way of thinking a potent good The 
truth is, of course, that we do not really control vast 
populations in this way. Pascal knew perfectly well that 
the chancellor had force behind him. If he felt in his day 
that medicine was an imaginary science, he would not 
feel so today. After all, Pascal's understanding of the im- 
agination was a part of his understanding of everything 
else. As he lay dying, he experienced a violent convul- 

Imagination as Value 135 

sion. His sister, who attended him, described the scene 
He had repeatedly asked that he might receive com- 
munion. His sister wrote 

God, who wished to reward a desire so fervent and so 
just, suspended this convulsion as by a miracle and re- 
stored his judgment completely as in the perfection of his 
health, in a manner that the parish priest, entering into 
his room with the sacrament, cried to him: ""Here is he 
whom you have so much desired.'''' These words com- 
pletely roused him and as the priest approached to give 
him communion, he made an effort, he raised himself half 
way without help to receive it with more respect; and 
the priest having interrogated him, following the custom, 
on the principal mysteries of the faith, he responded dis- 
tinctly "Yes, monsieur, I believe all that with all my 
heart " Then he received the sacred wafer and extreme 
unction with feelings so tender that he poured out tears. 
He replied to everything, thanked the priest and as the 
priest blessed him with the holy cibonum, he said, "Let 
God never forsake me. 11 

Thus, in the very act of dying, he clung to what he him- 
self had called the delusive faculty When I said a mo- 
ment ago that he had never spoken well of it, I did not 
overlook the fact that "this superb power, the enemy of 
reason, 11 to use his own words, did not, and could not, al- 
ways seem the same to him In a moment of indifference, 
he said that the imagination disposes all things and that 
it is the imagination that creates beauty, justice and hap- 


piness. In these various ways, the example of Pascal 
demonstrates how the good of the imagination may be 
evil and its evil good. The imagination is the power of 
the mind over the possibilities of things; but if this con- 
stitutes a certain single characteristic, it is the source not 
of a certain single value but of as many values as reside 
in the possibilities of things. 

A second difficulty about value is the difference be- 
tween the imagination as metaphysics and as a power of 
the mind over external objects, that is to say, reality. 
Ernst Cassirer in his An Essay on Man says: 

In romantic thought the theory of -poetic imagination 
had reached its climax. Imagination is no longer that spe- 
cial human activity which builds up the human world of 
art. It now has universal metaphysical value. Poetic im- 
agination is the only clue to reality Fichte^s idealism is 
based upon his conception of '"'"productive imagination " 
Schelling declared in his System of Transcendental Ideal- 
ism that art is the consummation of philosophy. In na- 
ture, in morality, in history we are still living in the 
< propylaeum of philosophical wisdom, m art we enter into 
the sanctuary itself. The true poem is not the work of the 
individual artist, it is the universe itself, the one work of 
art which is forever perfecting itself. 

Professor Cassirer speaks of this as "exuberant and 
ecstatic praise of poetic imagination. 11 In addition, it is 
the language of what he calls "romantic thought 11 and by 

Imagination as Value 137 

romantic thought he means metaphysics. When I speak 
of the power of the mind over external objects I have m 
mind, as external objects, works of art as, for example, 
the sculptures of Michelangelo with what Walter Pater 
calls "their wonderful strength verging, as in the things 
of the imagination great strength always does, on what is 
singular or strange, 11 or, in architecture, the formidable 
public buildings of the British or the architecture and 
decoration of churches, as, say, in the case of the Jesuit 
church at Lucerne, where one might so easily pass from 
the real to the visionary without consciousness of change. 
Imagination, as metaphysics, leads us in one direction 
and, as art, in another. 

When we consider the imagination as metaphysics, we 
realize that it is in the nature of the imagination itself that 
we should be quick to accept it as the only clue to reality. 
But alas ' we are no sooner so disposed than we encounter 
the logical positivists. In Language, Truth and Logic, 
Professor Ayer says that 

it is fashionable to speak of the metaphysician as a kind 
of misplaced poet. As his statements have no literal mean- 
ing, they are not sub]ect to any criteria of truth or false- 
hood; hut they may still seem to express, or arouse, 
emotions, and thus be subject to ethical or aesthetic stand- 
ards And it is suggested that they may have considerable 
value, as means of moral inspiration, or even as works of 
art In this way, an attempt is made to compensate the 
metaphysician for his extrusion pom philosophy 


It appears from this that the imagination as metaphysics, 
from the point of view of the logical positivist, has at 
least seeming values During the last few months, the 
New Statesman of London has been publishing letters 
growing out of a letter sent to it by a visitor to Oxford, 
who reported that Professor Avers book had "acquired 
almost the status of a philosophic Bible " This led Pro- 
fessor Joad to look up the book and see for himself. He 
reported that the book teaches that 

If . . . God is a metaphysical term, if, that is to say, 
He belongs to a reality -which transcends the world of 
sense-experience . . . to say that He exists is neither 
true nor false. This position ... is neither atheist nor 
agnostic, it cuts deeper than either, by asserting that all 
talk about God, whether pro or anti, is twaddle. 

What is true of one metaphysical term is true of all. 

Then, too, before going on, we must somehow cleanse 
the imagination of the romantic. We feel, without being 
particularly intelligent about it, that the imagination as 
metaphysics will survive logical positivism unscathed 
At the same time, we feel, and with the sharpest possible 
intelligence, that it is not worthy to survive if it is to be 
identified with the romantic. The imagination is one of 
the great human powers. The romantic belittles it. The 
imagination is the liberty of the mind. The romantic is a 
failure to make use of that liberty. It is to the imagination 
what sentimentality is to feeling. It is a failure of the 
imagination precisely as sentimentality is a failure of feel- 

Imagination as Value 139 

ing The imagination is the only genius It is intrepid and 
eager and the extreme of its achievement lies in abstrac- 
tion The achievement of the romantic, on the contrary, 
lies m minor wish-fulfillments and it is incapable of ab- 
straction. In any case and without continuing to contrast 
the two things, one wants to elicit a sense of the imagina- 
tion as something vital. In that sense one must deal with 
it as metaphysics 

If we escape destruction at the hands of the logical 
positivists and if we cleanse the imagination of the taint 
of the romantic, we still face Freud What would he have 
said of the imagination as the clue to reality and of a cul- 
ture based on the imagination? Before jumping to the 
conclusion that at last there is no escape, is it not possible 
that he might have said that in a civilization based on 
science there could be a science of illusions ? He does in 
fact say that "So long as a man's early years are influ- 
enced by the religious thought-inhibition ... as well 
as by the sexual one, we cannot really say what he is 
actually like." If when the primacy of the intelligence 
has been achieved, one can really say what a man is actu- 
ally like, what could be more natural than a science of 
illusions? Moreover, if the imagination is not quite the 
clue to reality now, might it not become so then? As for 
the present, what have we, if we do not have science, 
except the imagination? And who is to say of its deliber- 
ate fictions arising out of the contemporary mind that 
they are not the forerunners of some such science? There 
is more than the romantic in the statement that the true 


work of art, whatever it may be, is not the work of the 
individual artist. It is time and it is place, as these per- 
fect themselves. 

To regard the imagination as metaphysics is to think of 
it as part of life, and to think of it as part of life is to 
realize the extent of artifice. We live in the mind. One 
way of demonstrating what it means to live in the mind is 
to imagine a discussion of the world between two people 
born blind, able to describe their images, so far as they 
have images, without the use of images derived from 
other people It would not be our world that would be 
discussed Still another illustration may help A man in 
Paris does not imagine the same sort of thing that a 
native of Uganda imagines. If each could transmit his 
imagination to the other, so that the man in Paris, lying 
awake at night, could suddenly hear a footfall that meant 
the presence of some inimical and merciless monstrosity, 
and if the man in Uganda found himself in, say, the 
Muenster at Basel and experienced what is to be experi- 
enced there, what words would the Parisian find to fore- 
stall his fate and what understanding would the Ugandan 
have of his incredible delirium 5 If we live in the mind, 
we live with the imagination. It is a commonplace to 
realize the extent of artifice in the external world and to 
say that Florence is more imaginative than Dublin, that 
blue and white Munich is more imaginative than white 
and green Havana, and so on; or to say that, in this town 
no single public object of the imagination exists, while 
in the Vatican City, say, no public object exists that is 

Imagination as Value 141 

not an object of the imagination What is engaging us 
at the moment has nothing to do with the external world. 
We are concerned with the extent of artifice within us 
and, almost parenthetically, with the question of its 

What, then, is it to live in the mind with the imagina- 
tion, yet not too near to the fountains of its rhetoric, so 
that one does not have a consciousness only of grandeurs, 
of incessant departures from the idiom and of inherent 
altitudes? Only the reason stands between it and the real- 
ity for which the two are engaged in a struggle We have 
no particular interest in this struggle because we know 
that it will continue to go on and that there will never be 
an outcome. We lose sight of it until Pascal, or someone 
else, reminds us of it. We say that it is merely a routine 
and the more we think about it the less able we are to 
see that it has any heroic aspects or that the spirit is at 
stake or that it may involve the loss of the world. Is there 
in fact any struggle at all and is the idea of one merely a 
bit of academic junk? Do not the two carry on together in 
the mind like two brothers or two sisters or even like 
young Darby and young Joan? Darby says, "It is often 
true that what is most rational appears to be most im- 
aginative, as in the case of Picasso." Joan replies, "It is 
often true, also, that what is most imaginative appears 
to be most rational, as in the case of Joyce. Life is hard 
and dear and it is the hardness that makes it dear." And 
Darby says, "Speaking of Joyce and the co-existence of 
opposites, do you remember the story that Joyce tells of 


Pascal m Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man? Stephen 

— Pascal, if I remember rightly, would not suffer his 
mother to kiss him as he feared the contact of her sex — 

—Pascal was a pig— said Cranby. 

— Aloysius Gonzaga, I think, was of the same mind — 
Stephen said 

— And he was another pig then — said Cranby. 

— The church calls him a saint — Stephen ob]ected " 

How is it that we should be speaking of the prize of 
the spirit and of the loss, or gain, of the world, in con- 
nection with the relations between reason and the imagi- 
nation? It may be historically true that the reason of a 
few men has always been the reason of the world Not- 
withstanding this, we live today m a time dominated 
by great masses of men and, while the reason of a few 
men may underlie what they do, they act as their imagi- 
nations impel them to act The world may, certainly, be 
lost to the poet but it is not lost to the imagination. I 
speak of the poet because we think of him as the orator 
of the imagination And I say that the world is lost to 
him, certainly, because, for one thing, the great poems 
of heaven and hell have been written and the great poem 
of the earth remains to be written. I suppose it is that 
poem that will constitute the true prize of the spirit and 
that until it is written many lesser things will be so re- 
garded, including conquests that are not unimaginable 
One wants to consider the imagination on its most mo- 

Imagination as Value 143 

mentous scale Today this scale is not the scale of poetry, 
nor of any form of literature or art It is the scale of in- 
ternational politics and in particular of communism. 
Communism is not the measure of humanity. But I limit 
myself to an allusion to it as a phenomenon of the im- 
agination Surely the diffusion of communism exhibits 
imagination on its most momentous scale This is be- 
cause whether or not communism is the measure of hu- 
manity, the words themselves echo back to us that it has 
for the present taken the measure of an important part 
of humanity. With the collapse of other beliefs, this 
grubby faith promises a practicable earthly paradise The 
only earthly paradise that even the best of other faiths 
has been able to promise has been one in man's noblest 
image and this has always required an imagination that 
has not yet been included in the fortunes of mankind 

The difference between an imagination that is engaged 
by the materialism of communism and one that is en- 
gaged by the projects of idealism is a difference in nature. 
It is not that the imagination is versatile but that there 
are different imaginations The commonest idea of an im- 
aginative object is something large But apparently with 
the Japanese it is the other way round and with them the 
commonest idea of an imaginative object is something 
small With the Hindu it appears to be something ver- 
micular, with the Chinese, something round and with the 
Dutch, something square. If these evidences do not estab- 
lish the point, it can hardly be because the point needs 
establishing A comparison between the Bible and poetry 


is relevant. It cannot be said that the Bible, the most 
widely distributed book in the world, is the poorest. Nor 
can it be said that it owes its distribution to the poetry it 
contains. If poetry should address itself to the same needs 
and aspirations, the same hopes and fears, to which the 
Bible addresses itself, it might rival it in distribution 
Poetry does not address itself to beliefs. Nor could it 
ever invent an ancient world full of figures that had been 
known and become endeared to its readers for centuries 
Consequently, when critics of poetry call upon it to do 
some of the things that the Bible does, they overlook the 
certainty that the Biblical imagination is one thing and 
the poetic imagination, inevitably, something else. We 
cannot look at the past or the future except by means of 
the imagination but again the imagination of backward 
glances is one thing and the imagination of looks ahead 
something else. Even the psychologists concede this pres- 
ent particular, for, with them, memory involves a repro- 
ductive power, and looks ahead involve a creative power 
the power of our expectations When we speak of the 
life of the imagination, we do not mean man's hf e as it is 
affected by his imagination but the life of the faculty it- 
self Accordingly, when we think of the permeation of 
man's hfe by the imagination, we must not think of it as 
a life permeated by a single thing but by a class of things 
We use our imagination with respect to every man of 
whom we take notice when by a glance we make up our 
mind about him The differences so defined entail differ- 
ences of value. The imagination that is satisfied by poh- 

Imagination as Value 145 

tics, whatever the nature of the politics, has not the same 
value as the imagination that seeks to satisfy, say, the 
universal mind, which, in the case of a poet, would be 
the imagination that tries to penetrate to basic images, 
basic emotions, and so to compose a fundamental poetry 
even older than the ancient world Perhaps one drifts off 
into rhetoric here, but then there is nothing more con- 
genial than that to the imagination. 

Of imaginative life as social form, let me distinguish at 
once between everyday living and the activity of cultural 
organization A theater is a social form but it is also a 
cultural organization and it is not my purpose to discuss 
the imagination as an institution Having in mind the 
extent to which the imagination pervades life, it seems 
curious that it does not pervade, or even create, social 
form more widely It is an activity like seeing things or 
hearing things or any other sensory activity Perhaps, if 
one collected instances of imaginative life as social form 
over a period of time, one might amass a prodigious num- 
ber from among the customs of our lives Our social atti- 
tudes, social distinctions and the insignia of social 
distinctions are instances. A ceremonious baptism, a cere- 
monious wedding, a ceremonious funeral are instances 
It takes very little, however, to make a social form arising 
from the imagination stand out from the normal, and the 
fact that a form is abnormal is an argument for its sup- 
pression. Normal people do not accept something ab- 
normal because it has its origin in an abnormal force like 
the imagination nor at all until they have somehow 


normalized it as by familiarity. Costume is an instance of 
imaginative life as social form At the same time it is an 
instance of the acceptance of something incessantly ab- 
normal by reducing it to the normal. It cannot be said 
that life as we live it from day to day wears an imagina- 
tive aspect On the other hand, it can be said that the 
aspect of life as we live it from day to day conceals the 
imagination as social form No one doubts that the forms 
of daily living secrete within themselves an infinite va- 
riety of things intelligible only to anthropologists nor that 
lives, like our own, lived after an incalculable number of 
preceding lives and in the accumulation of what they 
have left behind are socially complicated even when they 
appear to be socially innocent. To me, the accumula- 
tion of lives at a university has seemed to be a subject 
that might disclose something extraordinary What is the 
residual effect of the years we spend at a university, the 
years of imaginative life, if ever in our lives there are 
such years, on the social form of our own future and on 
the social form of the future of the world of which we 
are part, when compared with the effects of our later 
economic and political years? 

The discussion of the imagination as metaphysics has 
led us off a little to one side. This is justified, however, 
by the considerations, first, that the operation of the im- 
agination in life is more significant than its operation m 
or in relation to works of art or perhaps I should have 
said, from the beginning, in arts and letters, second, that 
the imagination penetrates life; and finally, that its value 

Imagination as Value 147 

as metaphysics is not the same as its value in arts and 
letters In spite of the prevalence of the imagination in 
life-, it is probably true that the discussion of it m that 
relation is incomparably less frequent and less intelligent 
than the discussion of it in relation to arts and letters 
The constant discussion of imagination and reality is 
largely a discussion not for the purposes of life but for the 
purposes of arts and letters I suppose that the reason for 
this is that few people would turn to the imagination, 
knowingly, in life, while few people would turn to any- 
thing else, knowingly, in arts and letters. In life what is 
important is the truth as it is, while in arts and letters 
what is important is the truth as we see it. There is a 
real difference here even though people turn to the im- 
agination without knowing it in life and to reality with- 
out knowing it in arts and letters. There are other pos- 
sible variations of that theme but the theme itself is there 
Again in life the function of the imagination is so varied 
that it is not well-defined as it is in arts and letters. 
In life one hesitates when one speaks of the value of the 
imagination Its value in arts and letters is aesthetic 
Most men's lives are thrust upon them. The existence of 
aesthetic value in lives that are forced on those that live 
them is an improbable sort of thing There can be lives, 
nevertheless, which exist by the deliberate choice of 
those that live them. To use a single illustration: it may 
be assumed that the life of Professor Santayana is a life 
in which the function of the imagination has had a func- 
tion similar to its function in any deliberate work of art 


or letters We have only to think of this present phase of 
it, in which, in his old age, he dwells in the head of the 
world, in the company of devoted women, in their con- 
vent, and m the company of familiar saints, whose pres- 
ence does so much to make any convent an appropriate 
refuge for a generous and human philosopher. To repeat, 
there can be lives in which the value of the imagination 
is the same as its value in arts and letters and I exclude 
from consideration as part of that statement any thought 
of poverty or wealth, being a bauer or being a king, and 
so on, as irrelevant. 

The values of which it is common to think in relation 
to life are ethical values or moral values. The Victorians 
thought of these values in relation to arts and letters It 
may be that the Russians mean to do about as the Vic- 
torians did, that is to say, think of the values of life in 
relation to arts and letters A social value is simply an 
ethical value expressed by a member of the party. Be- 
tween the wars, we lived, it may be said, in an era when 
some attempt was made to apply the value of arts and 
letters to life These excursions of values beyond their 
spheres are part of a process which it is unnecessary to 
delineate They are like the weather. We suffer from it 
and enjoy it and never quite know the one feeling from 
the other. It may, also, be altogether wrong to speak of 
the excursions of values beyond their spheres, since the 
question of the existence of spheres and the question of 
what is appropriate to them are not settled. Thus, some- 

Imagination as Value 149 

thing said the other day, that "An objective theory of 
value is needed in philosophy which does not depend 
upon unanalysable intuitions but relates goodness, truth 
and beauty to human needs in society," has a provocative 
sound It is so easy for the poet to say that a learned man 
must go on being a learned man but that a poet respects 
no knowledge except his own and, again, that the poet 
does not yield to the priest What the poet has in mind, 
when he says things of this sort, is that poetic value is an 
intrinsic value. It is not the value of knowledge It is not 
the value of faith. It is the value of the imagination The 
poet tries to exemplify it, in part, as I have tried to ex- 
emplify it here, by identifying it with an imaginative 
activity that diffuses itself throughout our lives I say ex- 
emplify and not justify, because poetic value is an in- 
tuitional value and because intuitional values cannot be 
justified. We cannot very well speak of spheres of value 
and the transmission of a value, commonly considered 
appropriate to one sphere, to another, and allude to the 
peculiarity of roles, as the poet's role, without reminding 
ourselves that we are speaking of a thing in continual 
flux. There is no field in which this is more apparent than 
painting. Again, there is no field in which it is more con- 
stantly and more intelligently the subject of discussion 
than painting. The permissible reality in painting wavers 
with an insistence which is itself a value One might just 
as well say the permissible imagination. It is as if the 
painter carried on with himself a continual argument as 


to whether what delights us in the exercise of the mind 
is what we produce or whether it is the exercise of a 
power of the mind. 

A generation ago we should have said that the imagi- 
nation is an aspect of the conflict between man and na- 
ture. Today we are more likely to say that it is an aspect 
of the conflict between man and organized society It is 
part of our security. It enables us to live our own lives 
We have it because we do not have enough without it 
This may not be true as to each one of us, for certainly 
there are those for whom reality and the reason are 
enough It is true of us as a race. A single, strong imagi- 
nation is like a single, strong reason in this, that the ex- 
treme good of each is a spiritual good. It is not possible 
to say, as between the two, which is paramount. For 
that matter it is not always possible to say that they are 
two When does a building stop being a product of the 
reason and become a product of the imagination? If we 
raise a building to an imaginative height, then the build- 
ing becomes an imaginative building since height in itself 
is imaginative. It is the moderator of life as metempsy- 
chosis was of death Nietzsche walked in the Alps in the 
caresses of reality We ourselves crawl out of our offices 
and classrooms and become alert at the opera Or we sit 
listening to music as in an imagination in which we be- 
lieve If the imagination is the faculty by which we im- 
port the unreal into what is real, its value is the value 
of the way of thinking by which we project the idea of 
God into the idea of man. It creates images that are m- 

Imagination as Value 151 

dependent of their originals since nothing is more certain 
than that the imagination is agreeable to the imagination. 
When one's aunt in California writes that the geraniums 
are up to her second-story window, we soon have them 
running over the roof. All this diversity, which I have in- 
tentionally piled up in confusion in this paragraph, is 
typical of the imagination. It may suggest that the im- 
agination is the ignorance of the mind Yet the imagina- 
tion changes as the mind changes I know an Italian who 
was a shepherd in Italy as a boy. He described his day's 
work. He said that at evening he was so tired he would 
lie down under a tree like a dog. This image was, of 
course, an image of his own dog. It was easy for him 
to say how tired he was by using the image of his tired 
dog. But given another mind, given the mind of a man of 
strong powers, accustomed to thought, accustomed to the 
essays of the imagination, and the whole imaginative sub- 
stance changes It is as if one could say that the imagina- 
tion lives as the mind lives. The pnmitivism disappears. 
The Platonic resolution of diversity appears. The world 
is no longer an extraneous object, full of other extraneous 
objects, but an image. In the last analysis, it is with this 
image of the world that we are vitally concerned We 
should not say, however, that the chief object of the im- 
agination is to produce such an image. Among so many 
objects, it would be the merest improvisation to say of 
one, even though it is one with which we are vitally con- 
cerned, that it is the chief The next step would be to as- 
sert that a particular image was the chief image. Again, it 


would be the merest improvisation to say of any image of 
the world, even though it was an image with which a vast 
accumulation of imaginations had been content, that it 
was the chief image. The imagination itself would not 
remain content with it nor allow us to do so. It is the ir- 
repressible revolutionist. 

In spite of the confusion of values and the diversity of 
aspects, one arrives eventually face to face with arts and 
letters I could take advantage of the pictures from the 
Kaiser Friednch Museum in Berlin, which are being 
exhibited throughout the country and which many of 
you, no doubt, have seen. The pictures by Poussin are 
not the most marvelous pictures in this collection Yet, 
considered as objects of the imagination, how completely 
they validate Gide's u We must approach Poussin little 
by little" and how firmly they sustain the statement made 
a few moments ago that the imagination is the only 
genius There is also among these pictures a Giorgione, 
the portrait of a young man, head and shoulders, in a 
blue-purple blouse, or if not blue-purple, then a blue of 
extraordinary enhancings. Vasan said of Giorgione that 
he painted nothing that he had not seen in nature. This 
portrait is an instance of a real object that is at the same 
time an imaginative object It has about it an imaginative 
bigness of diction. We know that in poetry bigness and 
gaiety are precious characteristics of the diction. This 
portrait transfers that principle to painting. The subject 
is severe but its embellishment, though no less severe, is 
big and gay and one feels in the presence of this work that 

Imagination as Value 153 

one is also in the presence of an abundant and joyous 
spirit, instantly perceptible m what may be called the dic- 
tion of the portrait. I could also take advantage, so far as 
letters are concerned, of a few first books of poems or a 
few first novels. One turns to first works of the imagina- 
tion with the same expectation with which one turns to 
last works of the reason. But I am afraid that although 
one is, at last, face to face with arts and letters and, 
therefore, in the presence of particulars beyond particu- 
larization, it is prudent to limit discussion to a single 

My final point, then, is that the imagination is the 
power that enables us to perceive the normal in the ab- 
normal, the opposite of chaos in chaos. It does this every 
day in arts and letters. This may seem to be a merely 
capricious statement, for ordinarily we regard the im- 
agination as abnormal per se. That point of view was 
approached in the reference to the academic struggle be- 
tween reason and the imagination and again in the refer- 
ence to the relation between the imagination and social 
form. The disposition toward a point of view derogatory 
to the imagination is an aversion to the abnormal. We see 
it in the common attitude toward modern arts and letters. 
The exploits of Rimbaud in poetry, if Rimbaud can any 
longer be called modern, and of Kafka in prose are de- 
liberate exploits of the abnormal. It is natural for us to 
identify the imagination with those that extend its ab- 
normality. It is like identifying liberty with those that 
abuse it. A literature overfull of abnormality and, cer- 


tainly, present-day European literature, as one knows it, 
seems to be a literature full of abnormality, gives the rea- 
son an appearance of normality to which it is not, solely, 
entitled The truth seems to be that we live in concepts 
of the imagination before the reason has established them. 
If this is true, then reason is simply the methodizer of 
the imagination. It may be that the imagination is a mir- 
acle of logic and that its exquisite divinations are calcula- 
tions beyond analysis, as the conclusions of the reason 
are calculations wholly within analysis If so, one under- 
stands perfectly the remark that u in the service of love 
and imagination nothing can be too lavish, too sublime 
or too festive " In the statement that we live in concepts 
of the imagination before the reason has established 
them, the word '■concepts" means concepts of normality. 
Further, the statement that the imagination is the power 
that enables us to perceive the normal in the abnormal is 
a form of repetition of this statement One statement does 
not demonstrate the other. The two statements together 
imply that the instantaneous disclosures of living are dis- 
closures of the normal This will seem absurd to those 
that insist on the solitude and misery and terror of the 
world They will ask o* what value is the imagination to 
them, and if their experience is to be considered, how is 
it possible to deny that they live in an imagination of 
eviP Is evil normal or abnormal' And how do the ex- 
quisite divinations of the poets and for that matter even 
the "aureoles of the saints" help them' But when we 

Imagination as Value 155 

speak of perceiving the normal we have in mind the in- 
stinctive integrations which are the reason for living Of 
what value is anything to the solitary and those that live 
in misery and terror., except the imagination? 

Jean Paulhan, a Frenchman and a writer, is a man of 
great sense He is a native of the region of Tarbes. Tarbes 
is a town in southwestern France in the High Pyrenees 
Marshal Foch was born there An equestrian statue of 
the Marshal stands there, high in the air, on a pedestal. 
In his Les Fhurs de Tarbes, Jean Paulhan says 

One sees at the entrance of the public garden of Tarbes, 
this sign. 

It is forbidden 
To enter into the garden 
Carrying flowers. 

He goes on to say 

One finds it, also, in our time at the portal of literature. 
Nevertheless, it would be agreeable to see the girls of 
Tarbes (and the young writers) carrying a rose, a red 
poppy, an armful of red poppies 

I repeat that Jean Paulhan is a man of great sense But 
to be able to see the portal of literature, that is to say: 
the portal of the imagination, as a scene of normal love 
and normal beauty is, of itself, a feat of great imagina- 
tion. It is the vista a man sees, seated in the public garden 


of his native town, near by some effigy of a figure cele- 
brated in the normal world, as he considers that the chief 
problems of any artist, as of any man, are the problems 
of the normal and that he needs, in order to solve them, 
everything that the imagination has to give. 

The Relations 

between Poetry and Painting 

[ 159] 


/oger Fry concluded a note on Claude by saying 
that u few of us live so strenuously as never to feel a sense 
of nostalgia for that Saturnian reign to which Virgil and 
Claude can waft us." He spoke in that same note of Corot 
and Whistler and Chinese landscape and certainly he 
might just as well have spoken, in relation to Claude, of 
many poets, as, for example, Chenier or Wordsworth. 
This is simply the analogy between two different forms of 
poetry. It might be better to say that it is the identity of 
poetry revealed as between poetry in words and poetry in 

Poetry, however, is not limited to Virgilian landscape, 
nor painting to Claude. We find the poetry of mankind 
in the figures of the old men of Shakespeare, say, and the 
old men of Rembrandt, or in the figures of Biblical 
women, on the one hand, and of the madonnas of all Eu- 
rope, on the other; and it is easy to wonder whether the 
poetry of children has not been created by the poetry of 
the Child, until one stops to think how much of the po- 
etry of the whole world is the poetry of children, both as 
they are and as they have been written of and painted, 
as if they were the creatures of a dimension in which life 


and poetry are one. The poetry of humanity is, of course, 
to be found everywhere. 

There is a universal poetry that is reflected m every- 
thing This remark approaches the idea of Baudelaire that 
there exists an unascertained and fundamental aesthetic, 
or order, of which poetry and painting are manifestations, 
but of which, for that matter, sculpture or music or any 
other aesthetic realization would equally be a manifesta- 
tion Generalizations as expansive as these that there is 
a universal poetry that is reflected in everything or that 
there may be a fundamental aesthetic of which poetry 
and painting are related but dissimilar manifestations, are 
speculative. One is better satisfied by particulars. 

No poet can have failed to recognize how often a de- 
tail, a propos or remark, in respect to painting, applies 
also to poetry. The truth is that there seems to exist a 
corpus of remarks in respect to painting, most often the 
remarks of painters themselves, which are as significant 
to poets as to painters All of these details, to the extent 
that they have meaning for poets as well as for painters, 
are specific instances of relations between poetry and 
painting I suppose, therefore, that it would be possible 
to study poetry by studying painting or that one could be- 
come a painter after one had become a poet, not to speak 
of carrying on in both metiers at once, with the economy 
of genius, as Blake did. Let me illustrate this point of 
the double value (and one might well call it the multi- 
fold value) of sayings for painters that mean as much 
for poets because they are, after all, sayings about art. 

The Relations between Poetry and Painting 161 

Does not the saying of Picasso that a picture is a horde 
of destructions also say that a poem is a horde of destruc- 
tions? When Braque says u The senses deform., the mind 
forms," he is speaking to poet, painter, musician and 
sculptor. Just as poets can be affected by the sayings of 
painters, so can painters be affected by the sayings of 
poets and so can both be affected by sayings addressed to 
neither. For many examples, see Miss SitwelTs Poet's 
Note-Book These details come together so subdy and 
so minutely that the existence of relations is lost sight 
of This, in turn, dissipates the idea of their existence. 

We may regard the subject, then, from two points of 
view, the first from the point of view of the man whose 
center is painting, whether or not he is a painter, the 
second from the point of view of the man whose center is 
poetry, whether or not he is a poet To make use of the 
point of view of the man whose center is painting let me 
refer to the chapter in Leo Steins Appreciation entitled 
u On Reading Poetry and Seeing Pictures " He says that, 
when he was a child, he became aware of composition in 
nature and gradually realized that art and composition are 
one He began to experiment as follows: 

I put on the table . . . an earthenware plate . . . 
and this I looked at every day for minutes or for hours. 
I had in mind to see it as a picture, and waited for it to 
become one In time it did The change came suddenly 


'when the plate as an inventonal object ... a certain 
shape, certain colors applied to it . . . went over into 
a composition to which all these elements were merely 
contributory. The painted composition on the plate ceased 
to be on it but became a part of a larger composition 
which was the plate as a whole I had made a beginning 
to seeing pictorially. 

What had been begun was carried out in all directions. 
I wanted to be able to see anything as a composition and 
found that it was possible to do this. 

He improvised a definition of art. that it is nature seen 
in the light of its significance, and recognizing that this 
significance was one of forms he added "formal" to "sig- 

Turning to education in hearing, he observed that 
there is nothing comparable to the practice in composi- 
tion that the visible world offers By composition he 
meant the compositional use of words- the use of their 
existential meamngs Composition was his passion. He 
considered that a formally complete picture is one in 
which all the parts are so related to one another that they 
all imply each other. Finally he said, "an excellent il- 
lustration is the line from Wordsworth's Michael . . 
'And never lifted up a single stone. 1 " One might say of 
a lazy workman, "He's been out there, just loafing, for 
an hour and never lifted up a single stone, 11 and no one 
would think this great poetry. . These lines would 
have no existential value; they would simply call atten- 

The Relations between Poetry and Painting 163 

tion to the lazy workman But the compositional use by 
Wordsworth of his line makes it something entirely dif- 
ferent These simple words become weighted with the 
tragedy of the old shepherd, and are saturated with po- 
etry. Their referential importance is slight, for the im- 
portance of the action to which they refer is not in the ac- 
tion itself, but in the meaning, and that meaning is borne 
by the words. Therefore this is a line of great poetry. 

The selection of composition as a common denomina- 
tor of poetry and painting is the selection of a technical 
characteristic by a man whose center was painting, even 
granting that he was not a man whom one thinks of as 
a technician Poetry and painting alike create through 

Now, a poet looking for an analogy between poetry 
and painting and trying to take the point of view of a 
man whose center is poetry begins with a sense that the 
technical pervades painting to such a degree that the two 
are identified This is untrue, since, if painting was 
purely technical, that conception of it would exclude the 
artist as a person. I want to say something, therefore, 
based on the sensibility of the poet and of the painter I 
am not quite sure that I know what is meant by sensibil- 
ity I suppose that it means feeling or, as we say, the feel- 
ings I know what is meant by nervous sensibility, as, 
when at a concert, the auditors, having composed them- 
selves and resting there attentively, hear suddenly an out- 
burst on the trumpets from which they shrink by way of 
a nervous reaction. The satisfaction that we have when 


we look out and find that it is a fine day or when we are 
looking at one of the limpid vistas of Corot in the pays de 
Corot seems to be something else. It is commonly said 
that the origins of poetry are to be found in the sensibil- 
ity We began with the conjunction of Claude and Virgil, 
noting how one evoked the other Such evocations are 
attributable to similarities of sensibility If, in Claude, we 
find ourselves in the realm of Saturn, the ruler of the 
world in a golden age of innocence and plenty, and if, in 
Virgil, we find ourselves in the same realm, we recognize 
that there is, as between Claude and Virgil, an identity 
of sensibility Yet if one questions the dogma that the 
origins of poetry are to be found in the sensibility and if 
one says that a fortunate poem or a fortunate painting is 
a synthesis of exceptional concentration (that degree of 
concentration that has a lucidity of its own, in which we 
see clearly what we want to do and do it instantly and 
perfectly) , we find that the operative force within us does 
not, in fact, seem to be the sensibility, that is to say, 
the feelings. It seems to be a constructive faculty, that 
derives its energy more from the imagination than from 
the sensibility I have spoken of questioning, not of deny- 
ing The mind retains experience, so that long after the 
experience, long after the winter clearness of a January 
morning, long after the limpid vistas of Corot, that fac- 
ulty within us of which I have spoken makes its own 
constructions out of that experience. If it merely recon- 
structed the experience or repeated for us our sensations 
in the face of it, it would be the memory. What it really 

The Relations between Poetry and Painting 165 

does is to use it as material with which it does whatever 
it wills This is the typical function of the imagination 
which always makes use of the familiar to produce the 
unfamiliar What these remarks seem to involve is the 
substitution for the idea of inspiration of the idea of an 
effort of the mind not dependent on the vicissitudes of 
the sensibility It is so completely possible to sit at one 1 s 
table and without the help of the agitation of the feelings 
to write plays of incomparable enhancement that that is 
precisely what Shakespeare did. He was not dependent 
on the fortuities of inspiration. It is not the least part of 
his glory that one can say of him, the greater the thinker 
the greater the poet It would come nearer the mark to 
say the greater the mind the greater the poet, because 
the evil of thinking as poetry is not the same thing as 
the good of thinking in poetry. The point is that the poet 
does his job by virtue of an effort of the mind In doing 
so, he is in rapport with the painter, who does his job, 
with respect to the problems of form and color, which 
confront him incessantly, not by inspiration, but by im- 
agination or by the miraculous kind of reason that the 
imagination sometimes promotes. In short, these two 
arts, poetry and painting, have in common a laborious 
element, which, when it is exercised, is not only a labor 
but a consummation as well For proof of this let me set 
side by side the poetry in the prose of Proust, taken from 
his vast novel, and the painting, by chance, of Jacques 
Villon. As to Proust, I quote a paragraph from Professor 


Another -province he has added to literature is the de- 
scription of those eternal moments in which we are lifted 
out of the drab world. . . . The madeleine dipped in 
tea., the steeples of Martinville, some trees on a road, a 
perfume of wild flowers, a vision of light and shade on 
trees, a spoon clinking on a plate that is like a railway 
mans hammer on the wheels of the train from which the 
trees were seen, a stiff napkin in an hotel, an inequality 
in two stones in Venice and the dispintment in the yard 
of the Guermantes' 1 town house. . . . 

As to Villon* shortly before I began to write these notes 
I dropped into the Carre Gallery in New York to see an 
exhibition of paintings which included about a dozen 
works by him I was immediately conscious of the pres- 
ence of the enchantments of intelligence in all his pris- 
matic material. A woman lying in a hammock was 
transformed into a complex of planes and tones, radiant, 
vaporous, exact A tea-pot and a cup or two took their 
place in a reality composed wholly of things unreal 
These works were dehciae of the spirit as distinguished 
from delectationes of the senses and this was so because 
one found in them the labor of calculation, the appetite 
for perfection. 


One of the characteristics of modern art is that it is un- 
compromising In this it resembles modern politics, and 
perhaps it would appear on study, including a study of 

The Relations between Poetry and Tainting 167 

the rights of man and of women's hats and dresses, that 
everything modern, or possibly merely new, is, in the na- 
ture of things, uncompromising It is especially uncom- 
promising in respect to precinct One of the De Gon- 
courts said that nothing in the world hears as many silly 
things said as a picture in a museum; and in thinking 
about that remark one has to bear in mind that in the days 
of the De Goncourts there was no such thing as a mu- 
seum of modern art A really modern definition of modern 
art, instead of making concessions, fixes limits which 
grow smaller and smaller as time passes and more often 
than not come to include one man alone, just as if there 
should be scrawled across the facade of the building in 
which we now are, the words Cezanne delineavit. An- 
other characteristic of modern art is that it is plausible. 
It has a reason for everything Even the lack of a reason 
becomes a reason. Picasso expresses surprise that people 
should ask what a picture means and says that pictures 
are not intended to have meanings. This explains every- 
thing Still another characteristic of modern art is that it 
is bigoted. Every painter who can be defined as a modern 
painter becomes, by virtue of that definition, a freeman of 
the world of art and hence the equal of any other modern 
painter. We recognize that they differ one from another 
but in any event they are not to be judged except by other 
modern painters. 

We have this inability (not mere unwillingness) to 
compromise, this same plausibility and bigotry in modern 
poetry To exhibit this, let me divide modern poetry into 


two classes, one that is modern in respect to what it 
says, the other that is modern in respect to form The 
first kind is not interested primarily in form The second 
is. The first kind is interested in form but it accepts a 
banality of form as incidental to its language Its justifica- 
tion is that in expressing thought or feeling in poetry the 
purpose of the poet must be to subordinate the mode of 
expression, that, while the value of the poem as a poem 
depends on expression, it depends primarily on what is 
expressed Whether the poet is modern or ancient, living 
or dead, is, in the last analysis, a question of what he is 
talking about, whether of things modern or ancient, liv- 
ing or dead The counterpart of Villon in poetry, writing 
as he paints, would concern himself with like things (but 
not necessarily confining himself to them), creating the 
same sense of aesthetic certainty, the same sense of ex- 
quisite realization and the same sense of being modern 
and living. One sees a good deal of poetry, thanks, per- 
haps, to Mallarme's Un Coup de Des, in which the ex- 
ploitation of form involves nothing more than the use of 
small letters for capitals, eccentric line-endings, too little 
or too much punctuation and similar aberrations These 
have nothing to do with being alive They have nothing 
to do with the conflict between the poet and that of 
which his poems are made. They are neither "bonne 
soupe" nor "beau langage. 1 ' 1 

What I have said of both classes of modern poetry 
is inadequate as to both As to the first, which permits a 
banality of form, it is even harmful, as suggesting that it 

The Relations between Poetry and Painting i<5o 

possesses less of the artifice of trie poet than the second. 
Each of these two classes is intransigent as to the other. 
If one is disposed to think well of the class that stands on 
what it has to say, one has only to think of Gide^s re- 
mark, "Without the unequaled beauty of his prose, who 
would continue to interest himself in Bossuet 5 " 11 The divi- 
sion between the two classes, the division, say, between 
Valery and Apollinaire, is the same division into factions 
that we find everywhere in modern painting But aes- 
thetic creeds, like other creeds, are the certain evidences 
of exertions to find the truth I have tried to say no more 
than was necessary to evince the relations, in which we 
are interested, as they exist in the manifestations of today. 
What, when all is said and done, is the significance of the 
existence of such relations? Or is it enough to note them? 
The question is not the same as the question of the sig- 
nificance of art We do not have to be told of the sig- 
nificance of art. "It is art, 11 said Henry James, "which 
makes life, makes interest, makes importance . . . and 
I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty 
of its process." The world about us would be desolate ex- 
cept for the world within us. There is the same inter- 
change between these two worlds that there is between 
one art and another, migratory passings to and fro, quick- 
enings, Promethean liberations and discoveries. 

Yet it may be that just as the senses are no respecters 
of reality, so the faculties are no respecters of the arts. 
On the other hand, it may be that we are dealing with 
something that has no significance, something that is the 


result of imitation Quatremere de Quincy distinguished 
between the poet and the painter as between two imi- 
tators, one moral, the other physical. There are imitations 
within imitations and the relations between poetry and 
painting may present nothing more This idea makes it 
possible, at least, to see more than one side of the subject. 

All of the relations of which I have spoken are them- 
selves related in the deduction that the vis poetica, the 
power of poetry, leaves its mark on whatever it touches. 
The mark of poetry creates the resemblance of poetry as 
between the most disparate things and unites them all m 
its recognizable virtue. There is one relation between po- 
etry and painting which does not participate in the com- 
mon mark of common origin. It is the paramount relation 
that exists between poetry and people in general and be- 
tween painting and people in general. I have not over- 
looked the possibility that, when this evening's subject 
was suggested, it was intended that the discussion should 
be limited to the relations between modern poetry and 
modern painting This would have involved much tin- 
kling of familiar cymbals In so far as it would have called 
for a comparison of this poet and that painter, this school 
and that school, it would have been fragmentary and be- 
yond my competence. It seems to me that the subject of 
modern relations is best to be approached as a whole The 
paramount relation between poetry and painting today, 
between modern man and modern art is simply this that 

The Relations between Poetry and Tainting 171 

in an age in which disbelief is so profoundly prevalent or, 
if not disbelief, indifference to questions of belief, poetry 
and painting, and the arts in general, are, in their meas- 
ure, a compensation for what has been lost. Men feel that 
the imagination is the next greatest power to faith, the 
reigm'ng prince Consequently their interest in the im- 
agination and its work is to be regarded not as a phase of 
humanism but as a vital self-assertion in a world in which 
nothing but the self remains, if that remains So regarded, 
the study of the imagination and the study of reality come 
to appear to be purified, aggrandized, fateful. How much 
stature, even vatic stature, this conception gives the 
poet! He need not exercise this dignity in vatic works. 
How much authenticity, even orphic authenticity, it 
gives to the painter' He need not display this authenticity 
m orphic works. It should be enough for him that that to 
which he has given his life should be so enriched by such 
an access of value Poet and painter alike live and work in 
the midst of a generation that is experiencing essential 
poverty in spite of fortune. The extension of the mind be- 
yond the range of the mind, the projection of reality be- 
yond reality, the determination to cover the ground, 
whatever it may be, the determination not to be confined, 
the recapture of excitement and intensity of interest, the 
enlargement of the spirit at every time, in every way, 
these are the unities, the relations, to be summarized as 
paramount now. It is not material whether these relations 
exist consciously or unconsciously. One goes back to the 
coercing influences of time and place. It is possible to be 


subjected to a lofty purpose and not to know it. But I 
think that most men of any degree of sophistication, most 
poets, most painters know it. 

When we look back at the period of French classicism 
in the seventeenth century, we have no difficulty in see- 
ing it as a whole. It is not so easy to see one's own time 
that way. Pretty much all of the seventeenth century, in 
France, at least, can be summed up in that one word, 
classicism. The paintings of Poussin, Claude's contempo- 
rary, are the inevitable paintings of the generation of 
Racine. If it had been a time when dramatists used the 
detailed scene directions that we expect today, the direc- 
tions of Racine would have left one wondering whether 
one was reading the description of a scene or the descrip- 
tion of one of Poussin's works. The practice confined 
them to the briefest generalization. Thus, after the list 
of persons in King Lear, Shakespeare added only two 
words- "Scene: Britain " Yet even so, the directions of 
Racine, for all their brevity, suggest Poussin. That a com- 
mon quality is to be detected in such simple things ex- 
hibits the extent of the interpenetration persuasively. The 
direction for Britannicus is "The scene is at Rome, in a 
chamber of the palace of Nero"; for Iphigeme en Auhde, 
"The scene is at Aulis, before the tent of Agamemnon", 
for Phedre, "The scene is at Trezene, a town of the Pelo- 
ponnesus"; for Esther, "The scene is at Susa, in the pa- 
lais of Assuerus"; and for Athalie, "The scene is in the 
temple of Jerusalem, in a vestibule of the apartment of 
the grand priest." 

The Relations between Poetry and Painting 173 

Our own time, and by this I mean the last two or three 
generations, including our own, can be summed up in a 
way that brings into unity an immense number of details 
by saying of it that it is a time in which the search for the 
supreme truth has been a search in reality or through real- 
ity or even a search for some supremely acceptable fiction. 
Juan Gris began some notes on his painting by saying: 
"The world from which I extract the elements of reality 
is not visual but imaginative." The history of this attitude 
in literature and particularly in poetry, in France, has 
been traced by Marcel Raymond m his From Baudelaire 
to Surrealism. I say particularly in poetry because there 
are associated with it the names of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, 
Mallarme and Valery In painting, its history is the his- 
tory of modern painting Moreover, I say in France be- 
cause, in France, the theory of poetry is not abstract as 
it so often is with us, when we have any theory at all, but 
is a normal activity of the poet's mind in surroundings 
where he must engage in such activity or be extirpated 
Thus necessity develops an awareness and a sense of 
fatality which give to poetry values not to be reproduced 
by indifference and chance. To the man who is seeking 
the sanction of life in poetry, the namby-pamby is an in- 
tolerable dissipation. The theory of poetry, that is to say, 
the total of the theories of poetry, often seems to become 
in time a mystical theology or, more simply, a mystique. 
The reason for this must by now be clear The reason is 
the same reason why the pictures in a museum of modern 
art often seem to become in time a mystical aesthetic, a 


prodigious search of appearance, as if to find a way of 
saying and of establishing that all things, whether below 
or above appearance, are one and that it is only through 
reality, in which they are reflected or, it may be, joined 
together, that we can reach them. Under such stress, real- 
ity changes from substance to sublety, a sublety m which 
it was natural for Ce'zanne to say. "I see planes bestrid- 
ing each other and sometimes straight lines seem to me 
to fall" or "Planes in color. . . . The colored area where 
shimmer the souls of the planes, in the blaze of the 
kindled prism, the meeting of planes in the sunlight " 
The conversion of our Lumpenwelt went far beyond this 
It was from the point of view of another subtlety that 
Klee could write: "But he is one chosen that today comes 
near to the secret places where original law fosters all 
evolution And what artist would not establish himself 
there where the organic center of all movement in time 
and space—which he calls the mind or heart of creation 
—determines every function. 1,1 Conceding that this sounds 
a bit like sacerdotal jargon, that is not too much to allow 
to those that have helped to create a new reality, a mod- 
ern reality, since what has been created is nothing less. 

This reality is, also, the momentous world of poetry. 
Its instantaneities are the familiar intelligence of poets, 
although it has been the intelligence of another ambiance. 
Simone Weil in La Pesanteur et La Grace has a chapter 
on what she calls decreation. She says that decreation is 
making pass from the created to the uncreated, but that 

The Relations between Poetry and Painting 175 

destruction is making pass from the created to nothing- 
ness Modern reality is a reality of decreation, in which 
our revelations are not the revelations of belief, but the 
precious portents of our own powers The greatest truth 
we could hope to discover, in whatever field we discov- 
ered it, is that man's truth is the final resolution of every- 
thing Poets and painters alike today make that assump- 
tion and this is what gives them the validity and serious 
dignity that become them as among those that seek wis- 
dom, seek understanding. I am elevating this a little, be- 
cause I am trying to generalize and because it is incredi- 
ble that one should speak of the aspirations of the last 
two or three generations without a degree of elevation. 
Sometimes it seems the other way Sometimes we hear 
it said that m the eighteenth century there were no poets 
and that the painters — Chardin, Fragonard, Watteau — 
were elegants and nothing more; that in the nineteenth 
century the last great poet was the man that looked most 
like one and that the whole Pierian sodality had better 
have been fed to the dogs. It occasionally seems like that 
today It must seem as it may. In the logic of events, the 
only wrong would be to attempt to falsify the logic, to 
be disloyal to the truth. It would be tragic not to realize 
the extent of mans dependence on the arts. The kind of 
world that might result from too exclusive a dependence 
on them has been questioned, as if the discipline of the 
arts was in no sense a moral discipline We have not to 
discuss that here. It is enough to have brought poetry and 


painting into relation as sources of our present concep- 
tion of reality, without asserting that they are the sole 
sources, and as supports of a kind of life, which it seems 
to be worth living, with their support, even if doing so is 
only a stage in the endless study of an existence, which is 
the heroic subject of all study. 


This book is set in an experimental Linotype face 
called Stuyvesant. The roman characters are 
based on a type face cut by Jacques Francois Rosart 
(1714-77) at Haarlem about the year 1750. The 
italic is a new design, drawn in harmony with the 
Rosart feeling 

The booh was composed, printed, and bound by 
The Plimpton Press, Norwood, Massachusetts. The 
typography and binding are by W. A. Dwiggins, 
the designer of Stuyvesant type.